Members of the ruling coalition and opposition PTI concluded the third round of crucial election talks at the Parliament House on Tuesday, with Finance Minister Ishaq Dar from the government’s negotiating team saying that a consensus was reached on holding elections on the same day across the country under a caretaker setup.
Separately, PTI’s Shah Mahmood Qureshi also confirmed this development, saying that they had “shown flexibility for the sake of national consensus”. But, he also announced that the PTI would approach the Supreme Court, brief it on the negotiations and request for elections in Punjab to be held on May 14.
Speaking to the media after today’s meeting, Dar said, “There was no longer any confusion about whether there should be separate elections in one or two provinces […] and the two sides have agreed that holding elections in the country on the same day was for the betterment.”
He added that another positive outcome of the talks was that elections would be held under caretaker setups.
However, he added, a consensus was yet to be reached on the date of the elections.
“We have narrowed down on the date … but we have yet to reach an agreement,” he said, adding that both sides would consult their leadership on the matter.
He termed the consensus on one-day elections “a big progress”.
The minister said both sides had shown flexibility and if they continue to work towards a resolution with sincerity, “the third stage (finalisation of the election date), which will be the final stage, will also be successful”.
Speaking alongside him, PPP’s Yousuf Raza Gilani said it was also agreed that both sides would accept the election results.
Meanwhile, PTI’s Qureshi said while briefing the media about today’s meeting that his party had consented to the government’s proposals of holding elections on the same day under caretaker setups.
But, he added, an agreement was yet to be reached on the date for dissolving the National Assembly and Sindh and Balochistan assemblies, as well as the date for elections.
Qureshi said the PTI had proposed that these assemblies by dissolved before or on May 14 before polls were held simultaneously across the country.
He added that since the PTI’s proposals, “which were positive, implementable and within the ambit of the Constitution”, were not agreed on, the party would present its stance to the SC in writing and request for elections in Punjab to be held on May 14.
He added that the also wanted elections to be held in KP as early as possible and the matter be decided by the Peshawar High Court soon.
Road to today’s talks
In addition to Dar and Gilani, PML-N’s Khawaja Saad Rafique, Azam Nazeer Tarar and Sardar Ayaz Sadiq along with PPP’s Syed Naveed Qamar have been representing the government in the negotiations. Muttahida Qaumi Movement’s Kishwar Zehra and Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid’s Tariq Bashir Cheema were also included in the government’s negotiating team.
Meanwhile, the opposition delegation consisted of the party’s Vice Chairman Qureshi, Senior Vice President Fawad Chaudhry and Senator Ali Zafar.
Earlier, members of the PTI’s negotiating team held a meeting to determine the plan of action and strategy for the meeting.
Meanwhile, PPP co-chairperson Asif Ali Zardari also called on Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman — who has opposed the talks — at his residence in Islamabad.
During the second round of the dialogue on Friday, leaders from both sides had tabled their proposals, which the PTI’s delegations intended to discuss with its leadership and the government representatives with their allies.
Following the meeting, Dar had said while speaking to the media that Tuesday’s (today) dialogue would be the “almost final round” of the negotiations.
President Arif Alvi hopes for positive outcome
While the talks were under way, President Dr Arif Alvi said he was hopeful that the ongoing negotiations would lead to a positive outcome and urged politicians to find common ground.
The president expressed these views during an interview on Suno News programme ‘Bar Aks’.
He said there was a “trust deficit” among the politicians and called for them to adopt the characteristic of forgiveness in order to improve the situation.
President Alvi said if politicians reached a mutual understanding and the judiciary remained steadfast, no one could breach the Constitution. “It is politicians who mobilise the masses to protect the Constitution.”
In response to a question about the possibility of the success of the talks, the president mentioned Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Director General Maj-Gen Ahmed Sharif Chaudhry’s recent statement during his maiden presser.
Maj-Gen Chaudhry had said in the press briefing that the army was “apolitical” and that dragging the institution into politics to suppress an ideology, religion or a political party had resulted in chaos in different countries.
Referring to this statement, the president said it was one of the reasons he hopeful about the talks bearing fruit. But at the same time he added that the military would have to prove its stance of distancing itself from politics through its “track record”.
The president was then quick to add he “trusts” the army to do so, adding that there was now greater responsibility on politicians to resolve the ongoing crisis.
Differences over talks
While both sides have come to the table at Parliament in an attempt to reach a consensus on the issue of elections, they continue to argue elsewhere.
For one, the government has already termed PTI Chairman Imran Khan’s demand for the dissolution of the assembly by May 14 ‘impractical’, while the latter hitherto has not shown flexibility in this regard.
A day ago, he vowed not to get “trapped” in the government’s plans to hold elections in September and warned that his party would take to the streets if the Supreme Court’s order to hold polls in Punjab on May 14 was violated.
Meanwhile, Federal ministers Ahsan Iqbal, Javed Latif and Khawaja Asif went public with their opposition to the talks on Monday, prompting Qureshi to demand a “clear response” from the ruling coalition and warn of taking to the streets if negotiations ended up being an “exercise in futility”.
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, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif 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 had 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.
Subsequently, Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani had formed a committee with four members each from both the ruling coalition and the opposition for dialogue.