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— Photo by INP

LAHORE: A delegation representing the ruling coalition and Dr Tahirul Qadri agreed on Sunday that the date for dissolution of the assemblies for holding general elections would be announced by Feb 6.

However, the government rejected as unconstitutional Dr Qadri’s demands for reconstituting the Election Commission and freezing discretionary and development funds.

“It has been agreed in principle that the government will announce dates for dissolving the national and provincial assemblies within the next seven to 10 days. After this the elections will be held within 90 days,” Dr Qadri said at a media briefing after three-hour talks held here at the secretariat of his Tehrik-i-Minhajul Quran.

“It has also been agreed that the government will consult us while selecting its nominees for the caretaker premier and chief ministers,” he said.

It was the first meeting between the two sides after signing of the Islamabad long march declaration on Jan 17.

Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, Makhdoom Amin Faheem, Mushahid Hussain Sayed, Farooq Sattar, Babar Ghauri, Syed Khurshid Shah and Qamar Zaman Kaira represented the government, while Dr Qadri was assisted by Dr Raheeq Abbasi and Kanwar Dilshad Ahmad.

Dr Qadri said the government would abide by its commitment of giving 30 days to the ECP for the scrutiny of candidates under Articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution in order to prevent corrupt politicians from entering parliament.

He said the government would also give a legal cover to the long march declaration before Feb 6 in order to discourage those who were declaring it ‘just a piece of paper’.

Dr Qadri said that since the government had a different point of view on reconstituting the ECP and spending of billions of rupees on development projects and the use of discretionary funds of the prime minister and chief ministers, the leadership of the Pakistan Awami Tehrik was at liberty to announce its future course of action -- whether to go to the Supreme Court or use some other means.

“We declare the existing formation of the ECP illegal and unconstitutional. Under the Constitution (Section 2-A of Article 213) it is mandatory for the parliamentary committee to hear every candidate (three nominations by each province) before appointing the four ECP members from the provinces. We have no objection to the appointment of the ECP chief (Fakhruddin G. Ebrahim), but the nomination of the four members is illegal because the committee didn’t hear all the 12 nominees whose names had been sent by the provinces,” he said.

Dr Qadri said his team was also of the view that the use of discretionary funds by the premier and the chief ministers in the name of development negated Article 218 which advised against this for the sake of holding free, fair and transparent elections.

He said the government had re-endorsed other points of his charter of demands, about holding the elections under Articles 62, 63 and 218 of the Constitution and Sections 77 to 82 of the Representation of People Act of 1976 in letter and spirit. The government would also fully implement the Supreme Court’s judgment regarding electoral reforms in order to ensure transparent elections, he said.

He demanded that the government immediately freeze allocations from the discretionary and development funds (Rs15-25 trillion) among parliamentarians for development projects and spend them for giving subsidy to people on gas and electricity bills and essential commodities.

Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira said Dr Qadri’s demands about the ECP and funds were unconstitutional. “As we have to follow the Constitution first, we expect that Dr Qadri will avoid holding a ‘long march’ again to put pressure on us in this regard.”

He said the discretionary funds were being spent on major development projects and they could be used till the dissolution of the assemblies.

He said as the ECP was doing preparatory work at the moment for holding the elections and there was no bar on using the funds for development.

Under the National Finance Commission award, the government had transferred a major chunk of funds to the provinces and it had no control on these funds under the NFC as well as the Constitution, he said.

While endorsing the other points in the declaration, he said another meeting would be held next month and the government would inform Dr Qadri on Jan 31 about the schedule.

“We have also decided to halt by all means any ‘force’ that may do anything to stop the general elections,” Mr Kaira said.

Replying to a question, he said the government would talk to PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif about simultaneous dissolution of the Punjab Assembly, National Assembly and assemblies of other provinces.

Earlier, Dr Qadri expressed concern over absence of Law Minister Farooq H. Naek from the meeting.