Activists from opposition parties gather in front of the parliament house during a protest in Islamabad on February 4, 2013. – AFP Photo

ISLAMABAD: Having signed an agreement with Dr Tahirul Qadri, and now the PML-N submitting a long list of demands, the ruling PPP has been virtually caught between the devil and the deep blue sea.

In background interviews, senior PPP leaders said they believed that with elections round the corner everybody else was gunning for the ruling party. They accused the opposition parties of playing politics for point-scoring and creating problems for the government.

“Now when the government is all set to announce a date for the general election, the opposition parties have come up with a new set of demands which have no mention in the 20th Amendment that deals with selection of a caretaker set-up,” said a federal minister close to the top PPP leadership.

He said the basic purpose of putting in place caretaker governments at the centre and in the provinces was to ensure a level-playing field for all political forces and questioned the rationale behind PML-N’s sit-in in Islamabad on Monday.

Besides seeking removal of all governors, the opposition parties have also demanded transfer of officers holding important positions, including federal secretaries, provincial chief secretaries, inspectors general of police, heads of agencies, PTV and Radio Pakistan, politically-appointed ambassadors, attorney general, advocates general and those reappointed on contract.

Another PPP leader said the government was yet to pacify Dr Qadri who had been clamouring for his own demands, including changes in the Election Commission, which the government had no authority to bring in. And now, he added, the PML-N had opened its own Pandora’s box.

The PPP legislator privy to informal contacts between the ruling and opposition parties said the PML-N was using its government in Punjab as a bargaining chip because dissolution of the provincial assembly was of critical importance to holding the elections on same day.

The National Assembly will complete its five-year constitutional term on March 16 and the Punjab Assembly on April 8.

The government has no choice but to announce the election date before March 16 for which it needs to reach an agreement with the PML-N for holding the elections on the same day throughout the country.

Although there is no bar in the Constitution on holding national and provincial assembly elections on different dates, there is a broad consensus among all political forces on having the polling on one day for free and fair elections.

The PPP leader said the only purpose behind the PML-N’s demand for sweeping postings and transfers at the top level was to claim morale boosting victory before going to polls which, of course, would be difficult for the ruling party leadership to accept.

Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan has been saying that being the ruling party in Punjab the key for dissolution of the assemblies was with the PML-N.

Senator Ishaq Dar, supposedly main negotiator of the PML-N behind the scenes, had refused to accept the Islamabad declaration signed by the government with Dr Tahirul Qadri. The PML-N is not in favour of holding elections within 90 days after the installation of a caretaker set-up, a condition which the government had accepted in its agreement with Dr Qadri.

Similarly, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif is against earlier dissolution of his government, which has put the PPP government in a difficult situation.

A PML-N leader said the PPP had its own considerations at the centre and his party its own in Punjab before it dissolved the provincial assembly. About the PML-N’s demand for changes in civil bureaucracy, he said everybody knew that the MQM had its governor in Sindh and two sons of the newly-appointed governor in Punjab had recently joined the PPP.

“Will the two governors remain impartial in the run-up to elections?” But he agreed that instead of seeking wide-ranging changes in the federal bureaucracy, the PML-N should have pinpointed special cases such as governors in Sindh and Punjab which made a sense.

According to sources in the PPP and PML-N, an expected meeting between President Asif Ali Zardari and Mian Nawaz Sharif will play a crucial role in ensuring a trouble-free democratic transition. President Zardari is likely to visit Mr Sharif to offer condolence over the death of younger brother of the PML-N chief.

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