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LAHORE: Former president Asif Ali Zardari has convened a Multi-Party Conference (MPC) next month to brainstorm electoral reforms to ensure free and fair 2018 elections.

Mr Zardari has proposed April 14 for the MPC in Lahore (Bilawal House). However, the PPP is considering not to invite the PML-N to the conference.

“Zardari Sahib is convening the MPC on electoral reforms to ensure free and fair elections next year. The PML-N may not be invited to the conference,” former PPP Punjab president Manzoor Wattoo told Dawn after he called on Mr Zardari at Bilawal House on Thursday.

“All parties except PML-N will pledge in the conference that the ruling party will not be allowed to rig the 2018 election,” Mr Wattoo said. He said PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari might also attend the event.

Party may not invite PML-N to huddle

Mr Wattoo said the PPP had decided to take the issue of electoral reforms to its logical end as it believes that if anything is compromised, the PML-N would be back in the saddle. “The party leadership is keen on introducing strong checks to ensure that no one exploits any loopholes in the election process like the PML-N did in 2013,” he said.

Mr Wattoo said Mr Zardari had given a task to him and some other party leaders to make contacts with certain political families and invite them to join the PPP. “Soon some political stalwarts in Punjab will join the PPP,” he said and added Mr Zardari’s two-week stay in Lahore proved fruitful for the party as leaders and workers of various divisions had talked about different issues the party was facing in the province.

“The workers are feeling motivated (after meeting him) to work for strengthening the party,” he said. Mr Zardari had ensured that he would spend most of his time in Lahore till next elections.

Some senior party leaders have also been tasked by Zardari to contact the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid, the Jamaat-i-Islami and the Pakistan Awami Tehreek to forge an alliance in Punjab for next polls. “There has been a realisation in the PPP and these parties that it will be difficult to defeat the PML-N single-handed. Zardari Sahib wants grand alliance of opposition parties in Punjab. In case such an alliance is not formed, the seat-adjustment option will be open for these parties,” Mr Wattoo said.

The former president on Thursday met party leaders before he left for Islamabad. He will return to Lahore by April 14 after attending an event in connection with PPP founder Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s death anniversary and a tour of Balochistan.

Meanwhile, PPP Punjab President Qamar Zaman Kaira said there was no deal between Asif Ali Zardari and Nawaz Sharif. “No case or reference is pending against Mr Zardari and those trying to malign the PPP leaders with reference to court cases are actually committing contempt of court,” Mr Kaira said.

Published in Dawn, March 31st, 2017