After high-level huddle, coalition allies decide to stick it out till tenure's end
The coalition government has decided to complete its term, party leaders declared on Tuesday, as they insisted the results of the by-elections in Punjab "are not at all a barometer of popularity for any party".
The affirmation came after the PTI gave the PML-N a drubbing in Sunday's by-elections, winning at least 15 of the 20 seats that were vacated after PTI lawmakers backed Hamza Shehbaz for the Punjab chief minister's slot.
Since the by-poll, the PTI has renewed its demand for snap general elections.
The coalition allies, however, announced their intention to complete their tenure in a press conference. In it, PML-N's Khawaja Saad Rafique, JUI-F's Akram Khan Durrani, ANP's Mian Iftikhar and North Waziristan lawmaker Mohsin Dawar took turns speaking.
The presser, which came on the heels of a high-level meeting called by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, was attended by the top leadership of the coalition allies, including PPP co-chairman Asif Zardari, PDM chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman, JWP leader Shahzain Bugti, MQM-P's Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui and a number of other leaders.
In a video shared on social media, a cheery PM Shehbaz can be seen interacting with the leaders, who were all recorded smiling.
In the press conference, however, the smiles were gone with the railways minister stressing: "The coalition government has the right to complete its term. The federal government will complete its term and will work for the country's betterment. There should be no doubt about this."
Rafique said the PML-N grabbed five seats in the Punjab by-elections, emphasising "our vote bank has increased and remains intact", apparently referring to the fact that the 20 seats on which by-elections were held were won by the PTI in 2018.
He was of the view that the by-polls proved the impartiality of the "establishment" and the Election Commission of Pakistan and "this fact must be acknowledged".
He called out Imran Khan for criticising the ECP's role and "berating institutions".
Rafique said the government wanted parliament's decisions to be respected. "It can't be that parliament takes some decision in the larger interest of the country and it is later undone," the minister said.
He elaborated, saying that the allies — the PDM, the ANP and the PPP — had reservations about the court's interpretation of Article 63-A of the Constitution.
In the 3-2 split verdict, the court ruled that the votes of defecting lawmakers will not be counted, the retroactive application of which led to the de-seating of the 25 PTI dissident lawmakers who voted for Hamza.
Rafique said a review petition in that connection was pending with the top court, adding "it is our appeal that this is taken up by a full court and a speedy judgement be given on it".
The PML-N leader said Imran and his party were using the court as a shield "to mess with the Constitution and make the court appear controversial".
'If anyone did what Imran did, he would be called traitor'
JUI-F leader Akram Khan Durrani said Imran was lashing out at institutions but he was still considered "loyal".
"If it was anyone else, he would have been declared a traitor."
He said the coalition government knew if Imran remained in power, the country would have defaulted.
National Democratic Movement chairman Mohsin Dawar said it was encouraging to note that free and fair elections were now taking place in the country.
"I would request the chief election commissioner to announce a decision on the foreign funding case as soon as possible."
Regarding the court's observation on Article 63-A, Dawar said the judiciary should function within its limits, while "parliament's powers should remain with parliament.