Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah on Monday said that the government will “welcome back” PTI MNAs to the National Assembly if they were to return but maintained that any discussion over a caretaker setup can be held only once the mandated tenure of the government expires in August.
Earlier today, media reports claimed that PTI Chairman Imran Khan, in a meeting with journalists at his Zaman Park Residence in Lahore, hinted that he could be open to sending his party’s lawmakers back to the National Assembly to discuss a caretaker setup, which he feared could be decided by the government and opposition leader Raja Riaz if the PTI were to remain absent.
Dawn.com could not independently verify the remarks made by Imran.
Sanaullah, while talking to ARY News regarding Imran’s comments, said: “Of course, we will welcome them [back] into the assembly as even when they were leaving, we had said it was an undemocratic decision.”
The interior minister asserted, “They (PTI MNAs) will have to withdraw their resignations for returning [to the National Assembly] […] and will have to come and sit in the assembly.”
He said that Imran will also have to submit a request to the speaker to become the leader of the opposition.
Sanaullah reiterated the federal government’s stance of holding general elections upon the expiry of its full five-year term. “When the tenure of the assemblies would end on Aug 16, 2023, he (Imran) will be part of the consultation as the leader of the opposition and then the decision of the caretaker would be made.”
Ousting PM the primary reason for NA return: Fawad
While Imran’s remarks regarding the PTI’s potential return to the National Assembly were in the context of discussing the caretaker setup, Fawad Chaudhry later clarified that the party’s return was linked with its plan to oust Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif.
When asked if the PTI has definitively decided to return to the National Assembly, he told Dawn.com, “the party aims to oust Shehbaz Sharif as the prime minister”.
He said the party was seeking legal opinion on how it could bind its MNAs to vote as per party policy in case of a no-trust move, and if that can be achieved without joining the assembly. It is pertinent to mention that while a bulk of the PTI MNAs had quit the parliament in April on Imran’s calls, a handful of dissidents, including opposition leader Riaz and Noor Alam Khan, had remained.
“We will take the decision [to return to the NA based on the advice],” Fawad said.
Fawad acknowledged that talks over a caretaker setup were also a reason to consider returning to the assembly but said that it was not a “top priority as ultimately the ECP will decide the new candidate and in all likelihood, they will decide as per the whims and wishes of the PML-N”.
PTI’s en masse resignations
The PTI had announced mass resignations from the National Assembly in April, a day after party chief Imran Khan’s ouster as the prime minister through a no-confidence vote and shortly before Shehbaz Sharif was elected as his successor.
National Assembly Speaker Raja Pervez Ashraf on July 28, 2022 accepted the resignations of only 11 PTI lawmakers who had resigned after the vote of no confidence against the former PM.
The PTI had first challenged the move in the Islamabad High Court (IHC) on August 1, contesting that it was “unsustainable”. The IHC, however, had dismissed the petition on Sept 6, 2022.
The party then approached the Supreme Court, praying it to set aside the IHC order, terming it “vague, cursory, and against the law”. A decision on the PTI’s plea in the apex court is still pending.
Ashraf told a PTI delegation on Dec 29, 2022 that the party’s lawmakers would be summoned individually for verification of their resignations as the latter insisted on them being accepted in one go.