Members of the government and opposition PTI wrapped up the second round of crucial election talks at the Parliament House on Friday, with leaders from both sides saying that they had tabled their proposals and dialogue would resume on Tuesday (May 2).
The exercise was initiated yesterday (Thursday) for a breakthrough in the weeks-long deadlock on elections between the ruling coalition and the PTI.
The opposition delegation — formed on Wednesday night — consisted of PTI Vice Chairman Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Senior Vice President Fawad Chaudhry and Senator Ali Zafar.
Meanwhile, the PML-N’s Ishaq Dar, Khawaja Saad Rafique, Azam Nazeer Tarar and Sardar Ayaz Sadiq along with PPP’s Senator Yousuf Raza Gilani and Syed Naveed Qamar were representing the government.
Following the conclusion of talks today, Dar said each side had tabled two proposals, which would be presented to the government and PTI leadership.
“Some progress was made today,” he said, adding that “almost final round” of the talks would resume on Tuesday at 11am.
When asked to share details about the proposals, he said, “We are morally bound. We cannot share the proposals of either side.”
Meanwhile, PTI’s Qureshi also said progress was made during the talks today.
Speaking to the media outside the Parliament House, he said the negotiations were held in a “pleasant environment” today and with the intention to “find a way forward while staying within the ambit of the Constitution”.
“In my view, we made appropriate progress in this regard today,” he added.
Qureshi confirmed that both sides had tabled their proposals during today’s meeting, saying that the PTI’s suggestions were “reasonable, implementable and within the constitutional bounds”.
“We will now consult our leadership and they will seek the opinion of their coalition partners,” he said.
“I, Fawad Chaudhry and Ali Zafar will go to Lahore tomorrow and take Imran Khan into confidence on today’s progress,” Qureshi said, adding that talks on Tuesday would be held in the light of this development.
Speaking alongside Qureshi, Chaudhry criticised the detention of PTI leader Ali Amin Gandapur and “arrest of 33 supporters of Imran Khan” outside the Islamabad High Court (IHC) today, saying that such actions would “destroy the process of dialogue”.
He noted that government ministers had maintained that they had no involvement in these arrests. “Then whoever is doing this, it is akin to ruining the talks, and the responsibility falls on the government in any case,” he added.
“If you will engage in arrests without reason, the matter will derail,” the PTI leader said.
Qureshi also condemned the arrests outside the IHC today, saying that today’s discussion began with this issue.
The arrests, he said, had no justification.
“There are talks on the one hand and this situation on the other. So they ( government representatives) were asked what are they trying to do and were they creating an enabling environment.
“They understood [our stance] and consequently, 33 arrested people were released,” he added.
Imran makes talks conditional on early polls
Later, while addressing his supporters at Zaman Park via a video link at night, Imran said his party would make a decision regarding the talks by tomorrow.
He further claimed that the government had proposed to dissolve the assemblies — which sources privy to the talks say is a key demand of the PTI — after the budget.
“I ask them what will you achieve with the budget? You have already led the country to default,” he remarked.
Ahead of the second round of negotiations today, Imran — during an informal conversation with journalists at the Islamabad High Court — said that he had requested Fawad and Qureshi to initiate talks with the government only if the ruling party was prepared to immediately dissolve the assemblies and hold elections.
He added, “There’s no need to proceed if they insist on holding polls in September or October,” with both leaders present during the conversation.
Separately, Fawad said prior to today’s meeting that the main objective of the negotiations was to recognise that the public was the “centre of power” in Pakistan and move towards elections.
“Yesterday, talks were held in a pleasant environment,” he tweeted. “Today, we should move forward for the country by understanding each other’s point of view.”
‘Negotiations a waste of time’
Meanwhile, Defence Minister Khawaja Asif said he was of the opinion that the ruling coalition should not hold talks with the PTI, terming the exercise a “waste of time”.
However, he added, while party leaders had their individual opinions, final decisions were made collectively.
The PML-N leader expressed these views while speaking to the media outside the Parliament House in Islamabad.
He said the government had already stated that it lacked the funds to hold elections on separate dates and that it was “not financially possible” to organise elections on different dates.
“Secondly, if elections are held on different dates, I believe it would cause irreparable damage to the federation”, he said, adding that it would increase the anti-Punjab sentiment in other provinces.
The PML-N leader further said there was an ongoing power struggle between the institutions, adding, “I think the country and Constitution are not being served if someone is aiding Imran Khan.”
He highlighted that while the Constitution mandated that polls should be held within 90 days of the dissolution of assemblies, “it also states that they should be held on one day”.
“Elections will be held on one day in October,” he asserted.
First round of talks
On Thursday, representatives from both sides held at least an hour-long meeting inside Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani’s chamber to begin the negotiations.
Negotiations efforts are underway as per the Supreme Court’s advice while a written order is awaited by it regarding elections in Punjab and KP — an issue on which there has been a weeks-long impasse between the ruling coalition, the opposition and the higher judiciary.
With Jamiat-i-Ulema Islam-Fazl chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman reiterating a day ago that his party would not be part of any negotiations with the PTI, the PPP and PML-N seem to have taken command of the talks.
Gilani said after yesterday’s meeting that the PTI would present its demands during today’s meet-up, after which parties of the ruling coalition would be apprised about them and consulted.
It was principally decided that matters would be resolved within the ambit of the Constitution, Dar had said alongside him.
Meanwhile, insiders told Dawn that the PTI had put forth three key demands during Thursday’s session — the dissolution of the National Assembly (NA) and Sindh and Balochistan legislatures in May to pave way for general elections in July; the passage of a constitutional amendment for a one-time concession to delay polls beyond 90 days if the government wanted to go beyond the May 14 election date in Punjab; and, the withdrawal of the speaker’s order accepting the resignations of PTI MNAs to bring them back to the NA.
The government team sought some time to discuss the demands, the sources said.
Efforts to reach a consensus come against the backdrop of an impasse on elections, with the PTI seeking early polls — particularly in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa where assemblies were dissolved in January — and the government maintaining that elections across the country be held on the same day in October.
Earlier this month, the Supreme Court — while hearing a PTI petition — had directed the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to hold general elections to the Punjab Assembly on May 14. However, the government had rejected the apex court’s orders.
After repeated back and forth last week, the Supreme Court on April 20 afforded a temporary respite to the country’s main political parties, giving them time till April 26 to develop a consensus on the date for elections to the provincial and national assemblies, so they could be held simultaneously across the country.
However, on April 26, Shehbaz reiterated that simultaneous elections will take place in October or November after the current National Assembly completed its term on August 13, whereas parliament will have the final say regarding the initiation of talks with the opposition.
The government wanted to talk to the PTI, he said, adding that there was an overwhelming opinion that the doors of dialogue should not be closed, but its format was yet to be decided. “The decision [regarding talks] has to be taken by parliament, not you or me,” he added.