• PML-N starts efforts to take all stakeholders on board; PPP to nominate own candidate
• Govt plans amendment to expand mandate of caretakers beyond ‘day-to-day’ affairs

LAHORE/ISLAM­ABAD: As PML-N supreme leader Nawaz Sharif intends to see party stalwart and confidant Ishaq Dar as the interim prime minister, the PPP has expressed strong reservations saying a “man from the Sharif family” is not suitable to lead the ‘neutral’ setup.

However, PML-N started efforts on Sunday to take all stakeholders on board, including the military establishment and assuage the concerns of the PPP leadership.

Both PPP and PML-N want to see a politician steer the caretaker government to avert any move to delay polls. The ruling party is likely to make an official announcement after convincing the allies.

To hammer out details regarding the caretaker setup, the elder Sharif is camped in Dubai, again, for a huddle with the PPP top leadership — Asif Ali Zardari and Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari. Both PML-N and PPP believe a ‘trustworthy’ interim PM is needed not only to avert the threat of delay in polls but also to meet other political requirements.

On the other hand, uncertainty prevailed over the likely meeting between the PML-N and PPP leadership in Dubai. When contacted, PPP Information Secretary and Special Assistant to the Prime Minister Faisal Karim Kundi said no meeting was held between PPP and PML-N leaders on Sunday. Maryam Nawaz, who was in the UAE with her father, has returned home, though.

‘Ultimate contender’

Background talks with members of the federal coalition confirmed that either Ishaq Dar or some other politician would be the ‘ultimate contender’ for the coveted post as the coalition was not ready to concede to anyone else’s demand — a tacit allusion to the establishment.

“Like the appointment of the army chief last November, Nawaz Sharif has once again made it clear that the PML-N-led coalition will appoint the interim PM of its choosing, come what may,” a party leader in Punjab told Dawn.

“Mr Sharif may manage to allay the concerns of Asif Zardari regarding Ishaq Dar’s name [for the interim PM] by taking a stance that a disagreement between political parties on the post would allow the establishment to take advantage of the situation — a scenario which might lead to an inordinate delay in elections,” the insider said.

PML-N Secretary General Ahsan Iqbal said Ishaq Dar could be the interim PM if all coalition parties and the opposition agreed on his name. “Mr Dar or anyone else can be the caretaker PM provided there is an agreement,” Mr Iqbal said.

PPP opposes Dar

However, PPP expressed strong reservations as Mr Dar was “a man from the Sharif family” and not fit for the slot which dema­nded a neutral person. It insisted that the caretaker premier should be a politician nonetheless.

PPP leader Sherry Reh­man said PML-N has not proposed anyone for the post. “No name for caretaker premier has been conveyed to us so far.”

PM’s adviser and PPP leader Qamar Zaman Kaira said his party wanted the caretaker premier to be a politician, but there should be consensus among all political players.

“Discussions on the caretaker setup are going on among the parties. Both Mr Zardari and Mr Bilawal are in Dubai,” Farhatullah Babar of PPP said.

Mr Kundi said PML-N has not shared the name of any candidate with the PPP. He said the party will present its nominee to Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif.

“Both, the PM and the leader of the opposition will have to present three names each. Of which one will be chosen for the caretaker prime minister,” he added.

Speaking about the potential huddle in Dubai, he said no meeting was held between PPP and PML-N leaders in Dubai on Sunday.

After 18th Amendment, the caretaker setups which oversaw two general elections in the recent past were led by non-partisan prime ministers. Though the election rules call for a neutral setup to oversee elections, there is no explicit clause in the Constitution about it.

However, if the caretaker government is led by any party loyalist, e.g. Ishaq Dar, then it would undermine the credibility of polls.

“Sadly, our constitution & law is not sufficiently explicit that caretaker PM/CM and cabinet ministers should be ‘neutral’ and not affiliated to a political party. Yes, they need to act non-partisan according to Elections Act, 2017 but nothing stops them to be affiliated to a party,” PILDAT president Ahmad Bilal Mahboob said in a tweet.

Amendment to empower interim PM

The PML-N on Sunday announced that an amendment was being introduced to empower the interim setup to have powers similar to that of an elected government. These powers would allow the caretakers to take important decisions.

|“The interim setup will not be confined to day-to-day affairs of the government till elections are held. An amendment is being brought (to the Constitution) to empower the caretaker setup to take important decisions like an elected government does,” PML-N supreme leader’s spokesperson Muhammad Zubair told Dawn.

In a Dawn News show, Ishaq Dar was questioned whether Section 230 of the Elections Act — which relates to the functions of a caretaker government — was about to be amended. “To the best of my understanding, yes,” he replied.

“I don’t think this is something to hide from the nation. They will find out and it should [indeed] be amended,” Mr Dar said, adding that the nation’s time should not be wasted by having the caretaker government be bogged down solely in “day-to-day” tasks.

Published in Dawn, July 24th, 2023

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