ISLAMABAD: Amid speculations that the coalition government may be wrapped up or face a ‘big blow’ before Senate elections scheduled for March 11, the Pakistan People’s Party leadership decided on Thursday to hold them in mid-February, a senior party member told Dawn.
The decision was taken at a meeting of the PPP’s core committee, jointly presided over by President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani at the Presidency.
Some private TV channels quoted the Federal Minister for Religious Affairs, Khursheed Shah, as saying that the next general election could be held any time after the presentation of budget in June.
A source in the PPP said President Zardari had called a meeting of all heads of coalition parties on Friday to take them into confidence on the decision taken by the core committee.
The party sources said the committee had reiterated its earlier decision of not writing a letter to Swiss authorities to reopen a money-laundering case against President Zardari.
Political observers see the move as an indication of a fresh confrontation between the government and the judiciary.
The Supreme Court had ordered the government to write the letter by Jan 10. Another significant decision taken by the committee was that President Zardari would not submit a statement before a judicial commission formed by the Supreme Court to investigate the memo issue.
The PPP leaders believe that the federation’s reply submitted to the court during the hearing on maintainability of petitions filed by PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif and others in the memo case should be treated as a reply from the president.
“Under the Constitution we can hold Senate elections any time within one month before March 11,” Leader of the House in Senate Nayyar Bokhari told Dawn.
The Senate elections are held after every three years after the retirement of 50 per cent of its members. The term of a senator, however, is six years. Last elections were held on March 3, 2009 — nine days before the scheduled oath-taking of new members.
Article 224 of the Constitution says: “An election to fill seats in the Senate which are to become vacant on the expiration of the term of the members of the Senate shall be held not earlier than 30 days immediately preceding the day on which the vacancies are due to occur.”
The PPP leadership also decided to hold by-elections on seats recently vacated by legislators who had joined the Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaaf.
“The meeting decided to hold by-elections on all vacant seats and complete legal formalities for the purpose at the earliest,” the president’s spokesman, Farhatullah Babar, said.
Former law minister Dr Babar Awan said: “The ruling party will stick to its previous stance that no case can be tried against the sitting president.”
The meeting decided to hold consultations with coalition partners on the issue of creation of new provinces and take legislative measures in parliament for Seraiki province in the light of consultations with coalition partners.
The sources said Pakistan Muslim League-Q leaders Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain and Chaudhry Pervez Elahi and Awami National Party chief Asfandyar Wali, who met the president separately after the core committee meeting, had endorsed the PPP decisions on creating new provinces and holding Senate polls in mid-February.
The meeting praised the cabinet’s decision to support a private member bill seeking to make it mandatory for all servants drawing salary from the public exchequer to declare and make public details of their assets in the same manner as the parliamentarians do.
“The meeting noted that in the past such initiatives were thwarted on flimsy grounds and decided to push through the proposed legislation with vigour and political determination,” Farhatullah Babar said.
He said the meeting had rejected a proposal by some political circles to set up military courts and termed it undemocratic, uncalled for and undermining of civil and democratic institutions. “The PPP will resist any such move.”
The prime minister briefed the meeting on the gas, electricity, sugar and fertiliser situation and said the government was giving top priority to domestic gas consumers and there would be no interruption in supply.
Mr Babar quoted the prime minister as saying: “Gas supplies to industry, cement, fertiliser and thermal power sectors will remain suspended during the current month because of an expected increase in consumption by domestic users.”
Mr Gilani said the cabinet committee had been asked to introduce reforms in the energy sector as early as possible and to take steps to reduce system losses by gas companies.
Mr Babar said a committee, headed by Petroleum Minister Dr Asim Hussain, had been asked to hold talks with stakeholders in Sindh to share some of the gas produced in the province with Punjab and submit its report.
The meeting decided to mobilise people and hold rallies and public meetings at divisional levels to be addressed by senior party leaders, including the prime minister.
It asked the president of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa PPP, Senator Sardar Ali to make preparation for holding a public meeting in tribal areas -- the first of its kind by the PPP after Political Parties Order was extended to the region by President Zardari in August last year.
Interior Minister Rehman Malik briefed the meeting on the law and order situation.
The meeting was also attended by Nayyar Bokhari, Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar, Mir Hazar Khan Bijarani, Manzoor Ahmad Wattoo, Syed Khursheed Shah, Makhdoom Shahabuddin, Syed Naveed Qamar, Sherry Rehman, Faisal Raza Abidi, Sardar Ali, Nazar Gondal, Raja Pervez Ashraf, Rana Farooq Saeed Khan, Rukhsana Bangash, Fouzia Habib and Farhatullah Babar.