• Timing of next polls, shape of caretaker set-up on the agenda • Both sides keeping cards close, angling for their own men in top slots

LAHORE / KARACHI: The top men from the PML-N and PPP met in Dubai on Monday, amid reports that the coalition partners in the centre are holding consultations to decide the timing of the next general elections in the country and “their share” in the future set-up.

According to PML-N and PPP leaders Dawn spoke to on Monday, the uncertainty surrounding the next general elections may end soon after detailed deliberations by the top leadership of the two main coalition partners in the federal government are concluded in the UAE.

Sources told Dawn that Nawaz Sharif and Asif Ali Zardari met on Monday afternoon to hammer out a consensus on a number of key issues, such as finalising names for the caretaker set-up and deciding who will get what key position if the two partners win the next elections.

Insiders said it was decided that the party elders, i.e. the elder Sharif and Mr Zardari, would “talk directly” on these issues instead of allowing a prolonged debate “at the lower level”, which would be a waste of time.

• Timing of next polls, shape of caretaker set-up on the agenda • Both sides keeping cards close, angling for their own men in top slots

Also on the table would be the controversy surrounding top appointments at two leading national institutions, the National Database and Registration Authority and the Pakistan Cricket Board.

Mr Sharif’s daughter Maryam and Mr Zardari’s son Bilawal are already in Dubai, while Prime Minis­ter Shehbaz Sharif is also expected to reach there to become part of the parleys.

A PML-N insider told Dawn that the main agenda of the Sharif-Zardari meeting was elections in October or beyond. “If the elections are held at their scheduled time, then the caretaker set-up in the centre will of the PPP and PML-N’s choosing after taking Maulana Fazlur Rehman on board, of course.

The senior party leader said both leaders also discussed the overall economic challenges facing Pakistan and discussed the prospects of the IMF deal.

Monday saw the first meeting between the two sides, and it is expected that these huddles will continue until a consensus can be evolved on three major issues: a date for the general elections, the shape of the caretaker set-up and deciding whether to contest elections independently or make some seat adjustments.

A senior PPP leader said that since Mr Zardari was keen to see his son become the next prime minister, both leaders might not be on the same page with regard to their dealings with the establishment.

“There was a complete understanding between Mr Zardari and Nawaz Sharif before May 9 on the strategy against the PTI, but now that Imran Khan is no longer relevant to the upcoming elections — at least in the PDM’s view — both sides playing their cards very carefully to grab a bigger share in the future set-up,” he said.

The future of Imran Khan’s PTI will also be discussed, and the question of whether the party is to be given some space to contest the elections — for the legitimacy of the election process — or to keep it out of the ring, will also be discussed, the source said.

Meanwhile, another PPP leader told Dawn that leaders from both sides would celebrate Eid with their family members in Dubai, giving them ample time to iron out issues. “There will be multiple meetings, and since Bilawal and Maryam are also there, so the second tier leadership will also be on board. Whatever is decided or proposed in the meeting would be considered final,” the insider said.

“Another agenda point which hasn’t been mutually agreed upon, but is likely to be raised by Mr. Zardari, is seat adjustment with the PML-N in Punjab for the next general elections. He would definitely want the PML-N to consider supporting a few big PPP names in some Punjab constituencies. What he [Zardari] would offer to Mian sahib in return, we don’t know,” he said.

The PPP leader also referred to the “multiple events” playing out in the country at the same time, which demanded “smooth, silent and coordinated decisions” from the government leadership without “creating any wrong impression.”

“The two big-wigs from both sides decided to take up and resolve these matters to avoid any controversy, disagreement or impression of tussle within the ruling alliance,” he added.

The moves being made by the Istehkam-i-Pakistan Party (IPP), dubbed the ‘king’s party’ of sugar baron Jahangir Khan Tareen would also be closely watched by both side, a PML-N leader said.

While there was great media excitement over the meetings, the media wings of both, the PML-N and PPP, remained tight-lipped.

There was also no word from the JUI-F as to why PDM chief Maulana Fazlure Rehman was not travelling to Dubai to attend the all-important talks. However, it was learnt that if he chooses not to travel in person, he may attend the main huddle virtually.

Published in Dawn, June 27th, 2023

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