ISLAMABAD: If a close aide to President Asif Ali Zardari is to be believed, the government’s plan for general election will be clear towards the end of this month or the beginning of next month.
Asked for a tentative schedule for the election, the aide said: “I can only tell you that ambiguity surrounding the PPP’s plan for general election will be over in two or three weeks. By then it will be clear whether we want to have elections in March or go to May.”
If one goes by the assessment of the President’s confidant, the government intends to hold the general election by the end of March.
According to a federal minister, who is also close to the president, there is a strong voice within the party to go to the polls in March in order to avoid the scourge of loadshedding in summer.
He said: “The prime minister along with some federal ministers is forcefully arguing in favour of completing the term, which ends on March 16.”
President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf had a meeting on Dec 14, during which they discussed both options: whether to hold general election in March or May.
The aide said at the moment the president was listening to both sides and had yet to make up his mind.
The president had a similar discussion with the PPP leadership in Sindh during the last week of November where a majority of participants supported the idea to have elections in March.
The summer arrives in Sindh earlier than the rest of the country.
“First of all, we want to develop consensus within the PPP before taking the option to the coalition partners and then to PML-N,” said the aide.
In reply to election-related queries, so far the PPP leadership in general and its chief spokesperson Qamar Zaman Kaira in particular, had been insisting the government would complete its five-year term.
If the government wants to hold elections in late March or early April, it will have to dissolve the National Assembly in late January or early February.
If the government opts to complete its constitutional five-year term which ends on March 16, the elections will automatically go to May because the caretaker set-up will have a couple of months to hold elections.
In response to a question, the aide to the president said Prime Minister Ashraf was of the view that the government should complete its full term and then it could ask the caretakers to hold elections within a month instead of two months.
The PPP minister said the PML-N wouldn’t be a problem as far as a date for the general election was concerned.
“If we decide to dissolve the National Assembly along with the three provincial assemblies where the PPP is running the government, the PML-N in Punjab will have to go along with us,” the minister said.
Some PML-N leaders said the provincial government would like to complete its full five-year term so that mega projects which the Punjab government had stared in various cities could see light of the day before they headed to elections.
The minister said since all the political parties in power, including the PML-N in Punjab, had already done their homework on a caretaker set-up, it wouldn’t be a problem.
“If tomorrow, the PPP in the centre decides one date to dissolve the National Assembly, both the ruling party and the PML-N will have no other option but to agree on a caretaker set-up. In case of disagreement, the chief election commissioner will go ahead with his own choice for the caretaker prime minister to hold elections,” said another PPP insider.
MONEY MATTERS: Finance Minister Dr Hafeez Sheikh is also arguing for holding elections in March so as to shift the burden of tough financial decisions to the caretakers, sources said.
Pakistan has to repay about $1.7 billion during the current financial year.
A major repayment of $1.1bn is due in February, in addition to a minor repayment during the current month and another one of $500 million in May.
The government had requested the IMF to allow deferment of a couple of repayments which would become due during the period of transition from the current government to the interim government and then on to the next government. While the IMF rules don’t allow rescheduling of its loans and a new programme could not be negotiated by an outgoing government in the absence of an existing one, the only option left was to delay certain repayments which are due between now and the end of fiscal year on June 30.