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Federal Minister for Religious Affairs, Khursheed Shah. — File Photo

ISLAMABAD: In an apparent move to defuse the political tension prevailing in the country, a federal minister on Wednesday announced that the polls would be held by May 6 at the latest.

“The general election can be held on May 4, 5 or 6 and I can assure you that we will not go beyond this date,” Minister for Religious Affairs and chief whip of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party in the National Assembly Syed Khurshid Shah said in a TV talk show soon after a joint news conference of the opposition parties, in which they urged the government to immediately announce the election date.

However, this announcement did not have the desired effect as no other PPP official was willing to own Mr Shah’s date on behalf of the party.

Presidential Spokesman Farhatullah Babar and Law Minister Farooq Naek said that so far the party had not even discussed the issue with its coalition partners in the government.

Mr Shah gave the possible election dates on the day the chief of Tehrik-i-Mihajul Quran (TMQ), Dr Tahirul Qadri, during his address to the participants of the protest sit-in in Islamabad reiterated his demands for electoral reforms, dissolution of the Election Commission and setting up of an interim set-up after suspension of all the assemblies and a day after Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf talked to Pakistan Muslim League-N chief Nawaz Sharif by telephone.

Sources in the opposition claimed that Mr Sharif had also advised the premier to announce the election date as it would help release pressure which the government had been facing due to the present complex situation.

When contacted, Farhatullah Babar and Law Minister Naek said there was no need to read too much between the lines as Mr Shah had only reiterated the party’s old stance that the elections would be held on time after completion of the assembly’s term.

Under the Constitution, they said, the elections were required to be held by May 14 in any case. Since the assembly’s term is expiring on March 15, the government is bound to hold the elections by May 14 and, therefore, Mr Shah’s assessment could be correct, Mr Babar said. He claimed that the coalition partners had so far not discussed the election dates in any of the meetings.

Similarly, Mr Naek stated that no-one could give the exact date for the elections.

On the other hand, Opposition Leader in the National Assembly Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan welcomed Mr Shah’s statement, saying his party was satisfied with it.

Sources said the government had also decided to convene the National Assembly and Senate sessions next week during which it planned to formally hold dialogue with the opposition parties on the issue of setting up a caretaker government.

“Yes, we are going to convene the sessions of both the houses of parliament from Monday,” the law minister said. Responding to a question, he said the government could use the forthcoming sessions as an opportunity to engage the opposition parties for a dialogue on the future caretaker set-up as required under the Constitution.

Besides demanding election date, the opposition leaders, including PML-N president Nawaz Sharif and JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman, had also indirectly extended their support to the government’s handling of the protest sit-in by the TQM in Islamabad for the last three days.

All the main opposition parties, besides some political analysts, have been asking the government to announce the election date as soon as possible to end the uncertainty about polls and to counter the efforts of unseen forces who want to derail the democratic system in the country.

On the other hand, the government has always stated that the elections would be held in time only after completion of the assembly’s term in March this year. Political analysts believe that by giving election dates, the government has in fact reciprocated to the opposition which has come out with a united and positive response and extended an indirect support to the government’s handling of the protest sit-in by Dr Qadri.

Not only the opposition parties, including the PML-N, JI and JUI-F, termed Dr Qadri’s demands as “unconstitutional”, PTI chairman Imran Khan also announced that his party had no intentions on joining the TMQ’s sit-in.

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