• ‘N’, PPP hold separate meetings, agree to complete term and go to polls after fixing economy, making election reforms
• Nawaz speaks to PDM heads; Shehbaz invites chiefs of all coalition partners to join heads for post-by-poll strategy
LAHORE / KARACHI: Amid the opposition Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s (PTI) fresh demand for early general elections after registering a thumping victory in the crucial Punjab by-elections on Sunday, the two main component parties of the ruling coalition — the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) — on Monday insisted the National Assembly will complete its term until mid-next year, and general elections be held after the government carries out electoral reforms and fixes the economy.
Nonetheless, for some introspection in the wake of the humiliating defeat his party faced at the hands of the PTI in the by-polls, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has invited the leadership of all coalition parties to Lahore on Tuesday (today) to discuss the option of fresh polls.
However, after a meeting of PML-N stalwarts in Model Town, Lahore, presided over by PM Shehbaz, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah did hint that the party would stick to its stance of going to polls after completing the incumbent assembly’s tenure in August 2023.
“A decision to hold early elections will be made in consultation with all allied parties. However, the PML-N’s point of view hasn’t changed — next elections should be held after completion of the government’s tenure,” the minister told a press conference on Monday.
Mr Sanaullah and fellow federal minister Mian Javed Latif have both said their party might consider fresh polls, provided PTI chief Imran Khan dissolved the Punjab and KP assemblies. Sanaullah also voiced the government’s support for the election commission members in the face of Imran’s onslaught on them.
Moreover, Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb said on the invitation of the premier, a meeting of the Pakistan Democratic Movement and allied parties would be held on Tuesday (today) at Mr Sharif’s Lahore residence. “The leadership of these parties will deliberate on important and national issues,” she said in a statement. PML-N-chief Nawaz Sharif will join the meeting through a video link from London.
A party source said neither the PML-N nor its two main coalition partners – PPP and JUI-F – were willing to concede to the early election demand of Imran Khan. “The PTI chairman may be offered to hold talks over the matter, but the coalition government will take the decision that suits it,” he said.
He further said that at this point, giving in to Khan’s demand meant allowing the PTI to return to power as its chief’s popularity graph was on a constant rise and the Punjab by-poll results were evident of it. “Besides, the ruling coalition has yet to fix the economy, a major reason it cited for coming to power after toppling Khan’s government in April, and carry out election reforms. Until it meets these goals, the ruling coalition may not agree to snap polls,” he said.
During the party meeting, the prime minister was briefed about the reasons for the PML-N’s defeat on 15 of the 20 seats of Punjab Assembly in the by-polls. “Awarding tickets to PTI defectors that left PML-N workers disgruntled and disinterested in the election campaign, unpopular decisions of the coalition government of making huge increases in petroleum and electricity prices, rising inflation and related matters were the main reasons cited for the defeat,” a PML-N leader told Dawn.
Mission: Save Hamza
PM Shehbaz and his party leaders also discussed possible measures to save Hamza Shehbaz’s office of the chief minister. The incumbent CM is certain to lose to PTI-PML-Q joint candidate Chaudhry Parvez Elahi after failing to win 11 seats to achieve a majority in the house where the joint opposition now has 188 members.
“We will not let Mr Elahi become the CM easily. If five to seven PTI lawmakers don’t come to the assembly on the voting day (July 22), how will the PTI have its chief minister?” Sanaullah questioned.
Reportedly, the PML-N has been working on either ‘detaining’ a few PTI lawmakers in different cases or luring some of them with lucrative packages to abstain from voting.
Nawaz, Zardari, Fazl discussion
The ruling coalition elders – PML-N’s Nawaz Sharif, PPP’s Asif Zardari and JUI-F’s Maulana Fazlur Rehman – spoke to each other separately over the phone and discussed the situation post the PTI victory.
According to a source, the trio agreed that any decision about early general elections would be taken in consultation with all allied parties. “They were of the view that the coalition government of nine parties should take no such decision in haste or under Imran’s pressure,” he maintained.
PPP CEC meeting
Meanwhile, over in Karachi, the PML-N’s main coalition ally, the PPP, insisted on completion of the National Assembly’s term for “crucial electoral reforms and constitutional amendments”, vowing “to stand with the allies in these testing times”.
The party’s fresh resolve came at its central executive committee (CEC) meeting chaired by PPP chairman and Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari where senior leaders discussed the emerging political situation, and performance of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s government so far. They also shared their thoughts about the party’s future strategy and plan to reactivate itself in Punjab where the PTI had regained its ground and stunned the PML-N in its stronghold.
Sources privy to the discussion said the participants were almost consensual that the PPP should not support early elections, as being demanded by the PTI. The meeting, which lasted for more than two hours, also approved the decision to attend Tuesday’s meeting in Lahore of leaders of the federal government’s allies with a clear opinion about the current assembly’s term.
“The PPP is very clear that this [National] assembly should complete its term,” said Sindh information minister Sharjeel Inam Memon, who’s also the PPP’s CEC member, while talking to reporters after the meeting outside Bilawal House. “We want this, so parliament can make crucial constitutional amendments and undertake electoral reforms. Once they are done and the assembly completes its term, we will definitely want free and fair elections.”
He further said the PPP had a history of loyalty towards its allies, and the recent political setback to its coalition partner in Punjab won’t affect its partnership with any of the allied parties. The PPP would support any decision taken consensually by the coalition.
“We never betray our allies,” said Mr Memon. “Whatever the results of Punjab by-polls are, we stand with our allies. We also believe that any political challenge can be met with unity and harmony among the saner political entities. The Punjab by-polls have also exposed all the lies of [PTI chairman] Imran Khan. He should apologise to the chief election commissioner for leading a propaganda campaign against him.”
Published in Dawn, July 19th, 2022