ISLAMABAD: As the demands of PML-N’s main allies in the government — the PPP and JUI-F — for electoral and accountability law reforms have been addressed, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif hinted at the possibility of early general elections, saying the National Assembly is the platform that will take a decision on the polls, and not Imran Khan.

The PM’s remarks came hours after the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) chief gave the government a six-day ultimatum to announce a date for elections or he would return to D-Chowk for protest. The PTI workers and supporters dispersed from the capital after the former premier abruptly ended his much-hyped long march after travelling for hours from Peshawar to stage a sit-in and demand dissolution of the assemblies and early polls.

On the floor of the National Assembly on Thursday, Prime Minister Sharif lashed out at the PTI and its chairman. “I want to clarify to the leader of this group, your dictation won’t work. This House will decide when to hold elections.”

He said if the PTI was concerned merely about elections, they should have come to parliament. There are 14 months (to complete the assembly’s term) and the government is open to talks. “But, if you think you will pressurise, blackmail or threaten us to step down… we will not bow before your pressure or dictation,” he reiterated.

The PM said his government had two targets when he assumed office -- fair and transparent elections and reviving the sinking economy. He congratulated the House for passing legislation and laying the foundations for fair elections in the future. Regarding the second goal, he said it would be difficult to achieve, but history was witness that anything was possible if challenges were met with effort.

For the most part of his speech, the PM castigated Mr Khan over clashes between PTI workers and police on Wednesday, which Mr Sharif said were reminiscent of the scenes witnessed during the PTI’s 2014 sit-in. “If history is allowed to be repeated then nothing will remain,” he stated.

The prime minister also lamented the damage caused by the PTI marchers on Wednesday and said the House would have to decide whether the country would be taken towards chaos or the path of development. He also warned that no one would be allowed to bring live ammunition to Islamabad and stage “bloody marches”.

Shehbaz paid tribute to the various law enforcement personnel, and claimed in all respected societies measures like teargas shelling and rubber bullets were used against unconstitutional marches. He also condemned the PTI for criticising courts and institutions, the killing of a police constable in Lahore, and the use of religion for political purposes.

Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Raja Riaz Ahmed assured the government of his complete cooperation, and said elections should be held after the completion of the assembly’s tenure.

Earlier, PM Sharif felicitated Mr Riaz on his appointment as the opposition leader and assured him of the treasury’s support.

Published in Dawn, May 27th, 2022

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