• PPP chief claims he and Nawaz are on ‘same page’ regarding timing of next polls
• Says fuel prices cannot be increased due to knock-on effect on other commodities
KARACHI: Former president and Pakistan Peoples Party co-chairperson Asif Ali Zardari on Wednesday categorically ruled out the possibility of early elections, saying it was a joint decision of the coalition government to go for polls only after electoral reforms and amendments to election laws were completed.
Addressing a hurriedly-called presser at CM House, he did not agree with Defence Minister Khawaja Muhammed Asif, who had said in the morning that general elections may be held before the appointment of new army chief, due in November.
“This is Khawaja Asif’s personal opinion and I respect his remarks, but elections will only take place after reforms,” he said, added that he was saying this after consulting with Nawaz Sharif himself.
He said electoral reforms could take three to four months. “I have discussed the matter with PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif the other day and we agreed to call elections once reforms are completed,” he disclosed.
He said it was important to make these changes to legislation such as the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) laws, before going into general elections. “But yes, parliament is supreme and it has the authority to decide when to call an election,” he added.
The former president said NAB had to be reformed so that it could not be used for victimisation of political opponents in future. “NAB has demoralised the bureaucracy, which has stopped performing due to this fear,” he said.
“Overseas Pakistanis have no idea what the ground realities are in the country, but we have to steer it out of the quagmire that the ‘selected’ (Imran Khan) ruler has left us in,” he said, adding that parliament, with its collective wisdom, could even take a decision on reserved seats for overseas Pakistanis in the assemblies.
The PPP president said that early elections were being demanded by the ousted prime minister, but the question that needed to be asked was that when Imran Khan could not deliver during his four-year tenure, how he would deliver now.
Mr Zardari also said the prices of petroleum products could not be increased because their increase squarely affected the prices of other commodities. “I have discussed this matter with Nawaz Sharif, and we have agreed not to increase the prices,” he added.
Mr Zardari said that in view of spiralling inflation, people could not afford to pay their electricity bills and, therefore, the government might give out solar panels at subsidised rates for their installation at homes and tube-wells. “This scheme would help conserve electricity for industrial purposes,” he said.
Coming down hard on former PM Imran Khan, Mr Zardari asked how he could dare target important institutions in his public meetings and statements. “Our prime minister, [Yousuf Raza] Gilani, was removed but we did not speak against the judiciary... I was put in jail for many years, but even then we didn’t utter a word,” he said.
The PPP president said that instead of saluting General Qamar Bajwa for declaring his institution ‘apolitical’, Imran Khan had turned against the army chief.
Towards the end of the presser, Mr Zardari made an off-the-cuff remark when asked about the prospects of Lt-Gen Faiz Hamid. In response, Mr Zardari wryly noted that he had been ‘sidelined’.
Published in Dawn, May 12th, 2022