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LAHORE: Despite hectic efforts to bring the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) around on the issue of the passage of the delimitations bill, it appears that the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) has been unable to make a breakthrough, increasing fears that the caretaker set-up may extend beyond its constitutional limit of 90 days.

Prime Minister Shahid Khakan Abbasi is expected to make one final attempt to reach out to the PPP regarding the delimitation bill by contacting Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah on Tuesday (today), ahead of the bill’s presentation in the Senate’s ongoing session.

“National Assembly Speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq and other PML-N members have been in constant contact with the PPP leadership on the bill, but the party is not budging from its stance. The PPP had voted for the delimitation bill in the National Assembly but is refraining from doing the same in the Senate. It appears that they are doing so at the behest of someone else,” Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal said.

Talking to Dawn on Monday, Mr Iqbal said if the delimitation bill was not passed forthwith, there were chances that the country would have a caretaker set-up “for a longer period”, which would not be acceptable to the PML-N. “A caretaker set-up that goes beyond its constitutional limit of 90 days will be a recipe for rigging and interference in the election,” the minister added.

Ahsan Iqbal says PPP refusing to budge from stance at behest of ‘someone else’

He said that if the bill did not pass on time, the matter would have to be deferred till April for a final notification on the census, which meant that the Election Commission of Pakistan would need another five to six months to conduct delimitations. “Zardari sahib wants to scuttle the process to have a caretaker set-up for a longer period at someone else’s behest. Therefore, it is imperative that all parliamentary parties should support the bill in the Senate so that 2018 elections could be held on time,” he said.

The minister made it clear that Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf chairman Imran Khan’s demand for early elections was, in fact, a demand for a caretaker set-up for a longer period. “If Imran Khan’s demand is met and assemblies are dissolved to hold early elections... there is no chance of that happening in the absence of new delimitations. It means that the election will be deferred and the country would have a caretaker set-up that goes beyond 90 days,” he said.

The PML-N claims that it has addressed PPP’s reservations over the census. “The PPP had voted for the delimitation bill in the National Assembly after its reservations were met there (in the NA) and the Council of Common Interests (CCI),” said the minister.

Senator Mushahidullah Khan, who is also the PML-N’s information secretary, told Dawn that the ruling party was at a loss over what to do about the PPP’s “undemocratic attitude” over the bill.

“The prime minister will speak to the Sindh chief minister on Tuesday (today) to make another attempt to take the PPP on board,” said the senator, expressing wonderment at the PTI’s stance that they would vote for the bill if the PPP did. “We see a conspiracy to delay the 2018 elections. Who is behind the PPP forcing it to oppose the bill? By not voting for this bill, the PPP will be, in fact, voting against itself as we are near the completion of our who knows who will come to power after the next elections,” he said.

Senator Khan said the elections could not be held on the bais of previous delimitation because it could be challenged in the apex court by the provinces which have gained seats in the wake of the fresh census.

There has been an environment of unrest in PML-N’s ranks over this issue. Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif’s son MNA Hamza Shahbaz also appeared wary of whether the 2018 elections will be held on time.

“If the 2018 election is not held on time, there will be ‘darkness’ in the country,” he said, urging all parliamentary parties to play their role in ensuring that the general elections are held on time.

Railways Minister Saad Rafique also chided the PPP for becoming party to a conspiracy to delay the elections.

PPP’s parliamentary leader in the Senate, Taj Haider, had told Dawn that his party would not support the bill unless its demand on the modus operandi for a third-party audit of five per cent census blocks was accepted.

Published in Dawn, December 12th, 2017