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ISLAMABAD: The scheduled talks between representatives of the government and the protesting Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) could not take place on Saturday because the latter sought more time to review the government’s response to its proposals for electoral reforms.

The head of the government’s negotiation team, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, said the meeting scheduled for Saturday had been postponed on the request of PTI leaders who had sought time for consultations on the government’s written response to the party’s proposals. He said the talks were now expected to be held on Sunday (today).

PTI Vice-Chairman Shah Mehmood Qureshi also told a TV channel that it was on his party’s request that the meeting had been postponed for a day.

Political analysts believe that after postponement of the Chinese president’s visit to Pakistan, the government has ample time to deal with the PTI and the Pakistan Awami Tehreek and to resolve the crisis which entered its 23rd day on Saturday.

In another significant development, the two sides, according to sources, have agreed to reduce the size of their negotiating teams, narrow down their proposals and give final touches to their drafts in the light of opinion of legal experts.

A spokesman for the PTI said his party was finalising a response to the government’s reply which would be handed over to the government team at the next meeting.

The government and the PTI negotiators are reportedly focussing on preparation of terms of reference of a judicial commission to be set up to probe allegations of electoral rigging and determination of the legal implications of its findings.

After the last round of talks on Friday, the representatives of the two sides had termed the negotiations ‘fruitful’, but a harsh speech delivered by PTI Chairman Imran Khan from the top of his container at D-Chowk after a day-long silence on Saturday night presented a contrasting picture.

He said the government had been misleading people that it had accepted five of the PTI’s six demands and its written response had shown that it had not even agreed to a single proposal. He again declared before a sizeable crowd that he would not end the sit-in, even if he had to continue it for a year, without first forcing Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to resign.

In its response to the PTI’s demand for recount in certain constituencies, the government has refused to reopen even a single constituency to determine whether rigging had taken place in the 2013 polls.

In response to the PTI’s suggestion for formation of a judicial commission with the powers to investigate, prosecute and pass a binding judgment, the government side maintains that it opposes such a ‘super tribunal’ because no such commission can be constituted to determine “rigging and manipulation” in individual constituencies as it will be a violation of the provisions of Article 225 of the Constitution.

Instead, the government side proposes that the judicial commission’s terms of reference should exclusively deal with the PTI’s allegations that the PML-N, in collusion with the judiciary, government machinery and Election Commission officials, had rigged the elections in its favour.

The government side wants to focus on: “(Whether) there was a systematic and concerted plan or conspiracy to manipulate the general elections of 2013 for or against any political party in connivance with the Election Commission of Pakistan, former members of the judiciary, returning officers, federal and provincial caretaker governments or any other person.”

Both sides reportedly agree that the findings of the commission should be binding and enforceable.

Published in Dawn, September 7th, 2014