• Bilawal favours dialogue in parliament; Fazl says govt being ‘forced’ into talks
• Court can only interpret Constitution, not rewrite it, says PM
• Asif says next contact with PTI on 26th

ISLAMABAD / DERA ISMAIL KHAN: Parties in the ruling coalition have rejected the apex court order calling on political parties to reach a consensus on a date for polls in light of its order to conduct elections in Punjab on May 14, saying that talks with the PTI could not be held under the court’s watch.

Pakistan Peoples Party Chair­man Bilawal Bhutto-Zar­dari and Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) chief Maulana Faz­lur Rehman, who also heads the Pakistan Democratic Movement, termed dialogue between political forces as mandated by the court “talks at gunpoint”.

Addressing a press conference, the PPP chairperson said, “The heads of all coalition parties, including myself, disagree with the Supreme Court’s order regarding talks under the court’s supervision and consider the order as conducting of talks with a gun to [our] heads.”

In a reference to the ongoing push within the ruling coalition to hold talks with the PTI, Mr Bhutto-Zardari said he was hopeful that he would be able to convince the ruling allies for talks with the opposition, but the top court’s intervention made his job to forge consensus among allies harder.

“Yes, there is a difference of opinion among ruling parties on negotiation with PTI, I am trying to create consensus but the court order has made my job more difficult,” he added.

In response to a question regarding the top court order for polls in Punjab on May 14, the PPP chief quipped, “Only three people in the country believed that elections should be held on May 14…and that the condition of 90 days for holding elections does not apply to polls in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.”

The PPP leader urged the apex court to respect parliament and said that it was the responsibility of political forces to ensure honour of the apex court, “But we will not compromise on the prestige of parliament,” he added.

The PPP chief said that the government believed that the decision to hold polls on May 14 in Punjab was a minority decision and dubbed it a “decision at gunpoint”. Speaking about talks, he said talks between political parties should be held within parliament, not through any other institutions.

No talks with Imran

JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman also ruled out the possibility of holding talks with Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chief Imran Khan who was bent on creating hurdles for the country.

Addressing a press conference in Dera Ismail Khan, the JUI-F chief wondered how a dialogue could be held with a person who said that he would accept the elections only after getting a two-thirds majority in parliament. He alleged that the PTI chief wanted things to get done according to his wishes as he had already said that he would dissolve the assemblies even if he got a simple majority.

He regretted that Imran Khan, who should have been disqualified by now, was being made the centre of national politics. “Why did Imran Khan dissolve the assemblies? If they are disbanded deliberately, then it is stupid and he should be kept out of politics. He is incompetent and we consider him incompetent,” the JUI-F leader thundered.

He asked that if holding elections within 90 days was a constitutional obligation then how it was possible that a date given by the PTI chief after the stipulated time could be acceptable. He said that there was a time when decisions used to be implemented through guns and now the decisions were being imposed through a hammer of court and the government was forced to hold talks with a person who did not have any regard for the national interest and integrity.

On the other hand, PTI leader Fawad Chaudhry, who was earlier in favour of direct dialogue, took a new turn and said talks could only be held with the government under the watch of the SC.

PM slams SC order

Earlier, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif slammed the Supreme Court’s order to stop the enforcement of a proposed law that regulated the powers of the chief justice of Pakistan.

Addressing a ceremony held to mark the launch of the Constitution app in the capital, the premier said that there was no example in the world where a law that had not even taken its applicable shape was suspended by a court.

“The judiciary can interpret the Constitution that is their right, but the judiciary cannot rewrite the Constitution as this is only parliament’s authority,” he added. The premier went on to say that the “parliament will use its constitutional and legal rights on this” matter. “It is expected from the judiciary, the Supreme Court bench and bar that they will become the Constitution’s protector,” he said.

“Without delving into any political conversation, I want to say that we are undivided on this that indisputably, we won’t hesitate for a moment to sacrifice our political assets to save the state.”

Later, speaking to Shahzeb Khanzada of Geo News, Defence Minister Khawaja Asif said the government had reached out to the PTI for talks and an “understanding” had been reached that the two sides would again touch base on April 26.

“This is the position of talks,” he said.

“As a representative of my institution, on its behalf, I am telling you that we have to protect our turf. We will not take dictation from any other constitutional institution. We will not give the money [for conducting polls] because parliament has refused to do so, which is its right under the Constitution,” he said.

Published in Dawn, April 21st, 2023

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