• President says no justification to delay elections under Constitution
• Warns that arresting Imran may exacerbate chaos in country
• Says PDM, PTI chief not ready to sit together for dialogue

LAHORE: President Dr Arif Alvi has warned the federal coalition government against arresting former prime minister Imran Khan as well as looking for reasons to postpone elections in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

The president’s ‘warning’ to the PML-N-led federal coalition reportedly comes following a ‘passionate appeal’ to him from different Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) leaders to act in the face of a fear of Mr Khan’s arrest and to ensure elections were held within the stipulated time in Punjab and KP.

Talking to journalists at the Governor House here on Thursday, President Alvi said: “There is no justification to postpone elections under the Constitution. The government and relevant institutions must ensure elections (in Punjab and KP) are held within the timeframe given in the Constitution.”

Talking about the role of the caretaker set-up, the president said: “The spirit behind caretaker government is to ensure its neutrality so that elections are held in a free and fair manner by giving all political parties a level playing field.”

He was indirectly referring to the PTI’s complaints about the alleged partiality of Punjab’s caretaker dispensation, headed by interim Chief Minister Mohsin Naqvi who’s considered close to PPP leader Asif Zardari.

On the other hand, the government’s actions clearly hint at a delay in the elections in both provinces.

Punjab Governor Balighur Rehman is yet to announce a date for polls in the province despite being pushed by President Alvi, Punjab Assembly Speaker Sibtain Khan and the Election Commi­ssion of Pakistan. It has been about two weeks since the provincial legislature was dissolved by former chief minister Chaudhry Parvez Elahi on the wishes of PTI chief Imran Khan.

Governor Rehman was apparently of the view that he could not make any such announcement as he had not signed the dissolution summary. Similarly, Special Assistant to the PM Malik Ahmad Khan, who is considered close to the premier, conveyed his government’s point of view about delaying the polls in both the provinces.

“The Constitution says nothing if elections are not held in 90 days after dissolution of an assembly. Elections cannot be held every day,” he told a presser in Islamabad.President Alvi further said it was unfortunate that several results in the local bodies elections in Sindh were delayed and emphasised the use of technology, especially electronic voting machines, to ensure speedy compilation of results.

When asked why the Punjab governor was not announcing a date for elections, President Alvi said: “I have spoken to him about this. He told me that had he signed the dissolution summary he would have given a date.”

Playing with fire

President Alvi further said arresting his party chief Imran Khan would be tantamount to ‘playing with fire’.

“The government should refrain from arresting a popular leader (Khan) as there is no logic or reason to do so. If Mr Khan is arrested there will be more chaos and unrest in the country, which may not be controlled,” he cautioned. A good number of PTI workers have been camping outside Mr Khan’s Zaman Park residence here for the last two days following unconfirmed reports that the caretaker Punjab government has been ordered to arrest him.

The president also strongly opposed efforts to apply the minus-one (Imran Khan) formula in politics. “Time and again, history has proved that the formula has never worked,” he asserted.

He also took exception to senior PTI leader Fawad Chaudhry’s arrest, saying it was unfortunate that politicians were handcuffed over allegations of contempt and presented in court with their faces covered.

“This kind of treatment is meted out to a terrorist or criminal, not to a politician,” he lamented, claiming the Punjab governor had assured him that no action would be taken “outside the confines of the Constitution”.

Not ready to sit together

Regarding efforts to bring the opposition and ruling coalition together for a dialogue, the president said the politicians were not ready to sit together.

“The government has not resolved to enter into dialogue with Imran Khan. The federal coalition thinks that after signing an agreement with the IMF, economic conditions may improve and there may not be a need to engage the PTI,” he said.

When asked whether the military establishment was neutral as claimed by the former army chief, since his party chief did not think so, the president said: “I believe the intent expressed by the establishment to remain neutral.” Replying to another question, Dr Alvi said the murder of senior journalist Arshad Sharif was still an “unresolved mystery”.

Published in Dawn, January 27th, 2023

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