By-polls on vacant seats if opposition resigns: PM

Published December 9, 2020
In this photo, PM Imran Khan addresses through video link a meeting of parliamentary leaders being chaired by National Assembly speaker. — DawnNewsTV/File
In this photo, PM Imran Khan addresses through video link a meeting of parliamentary leaders being chaired by National Assembly speaker. — DawnNewsTV/File

ISLAMABAD: Prime Min­ister Imran Khan has said if the opposition resigns from parliament, the government will go ahead with by-elections on the vacant seats.

Speaking to a group of senior journalists and columnists at the Prime Min­ister’s House on Tuesday, he said whenever the government engaged with the opposition, everything boils down to their cases. “I am willing to speak with them on everything except giving them an NRO,” the prime minister said.

His statement came on the day the Pakistan Demo­c­ratic Movement (PDM) met in the federal capital to deliberate on the issue of resigning from the federal and provincial assemblies. The opposition alliance is demanding the resignation of the prime minister and a fresh free and fair election.

However, the prime minister appeared unperturbed. He reiterated the point that by holding rallies, the opposition wanted to spread chaos and destabilise the government. “For me this is a defining moment because it is a struggle for the rule of law,” the prime minister said, adding that by the end of the five-year term the difference between his government and the previous ones would be clear to all citizens.

Imran says he is willing to speak to PDM leaders on everything except giving them NRO

When a journalist asked him why the opposition app­eared confident since the last few weeks, the prime minister smiled and said his confidence level was also improving. “They can only use constitutional means to remove me,” he added. How­ever, he said he knew about some countries and perhaps that is why the confidence of the opposition was high.

The prime minister said Muslim countries had been made weak and there was a plan behind this. He referred to Iraq, Iran and Syria in this context and said similarly they did not want Pakistan to be strong.

Mr Khan emphasised that civil-military relations were very good now because the military had not become an obstacle in any of his policies that were outlined in the PTI manifesto. He said in fact he had been facilitated and there had been no resistance from the military in any policies pursued by him. He gave the example of Afghan­istan, saying that when his government came into pow­er, they did not have any ins­titutional memory on Afgha­nistan and the military facilitated his policy.

He argued that intelligence agencies protect leaders which is why they know what the leader is doing and, therefore, they were also fully aware what the previous leaders had been doing.

Asked about the decision of the Islamabad High Court setting aside the notification regarding the formation of the Cabinet Committee on Privatisation and ruling that unelected advisers and special assistants could not head government committees, the prime minister said his government would implement court orders. However, he argued that people who win elections do not necessarily have technical expertise.

He said ministries like power, petroleum, IT, tourism, agriculture, etc, needed specialists to run them. Likewise, he added, the civil services also needed to be reformed as specialists and subject experts were also required there. “How can we do modern governance without such experts?”

However, regarding the court order’s impact on his government’s governance and the dependence on such unelected experts, he said he would find some solution.

The prime minister also stated that his government was almost ready for local body polls and they could probably be held in April 2021 after the Senate elections.

Mr Khan emphasised that he was now focusing on long-term planning and reform of organisations like PIA, Steel Mills and the power sector. He said reform was difficult because the status quo was deeply entrenched in the system. “I was never in doubt that I would have to struggle,” he said.

In terms of his priorities, the prime minister mentioned four big projects: the two big dam projects, the Ravi city in Lahore and the Bundle Islands project off the Karachi coast.

In hindsight, he said he recognised some mistakes his government had made in the initial days. The prime minister admitted that the government should have gone to the IMF for a bailout package immediately after assuming power instead of wasting 10 months. In addition, he said, it would have been better if he had prioritised reform of state-owned enterprises like PIA and Steel Mills in the initial days. However, in the present context he said everything was fine with the IMF programme except a disagreement on the price hike in electricity which his government was resisting. He said sales of cement, automobiles and cars were increasing rapidly.

The prime minister also admitted that most of the people in his team had no experience of governance and, therefore, learnt by trial and error. He said that when he took office he too was taken aback by the scale of problems. “It’s a different scenario when you see the government from the inside,” he acknowledged.

The prime minister expressed concern about the second wave of Covid-19 and the fact that citizens were not following SOPs. In reference to the opposition’s public meetings, he drew a parallel saying when US President Donald Trump did not take the pandemic seriously, even after recovering from it, his supporters also took it lightly and this is why the United States is averaging nearly 3,000 deaths daily.

However, he reiterated emphatically that Pakistan could not afford a lockdown and, therefore, people would have to follow SOPs and wear masks in order to control the spread of the infections. He said the closure of schools also applied to madressahs.

Published in Dawn, December 9th, 2020

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