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ISLAMABAD, March 5: As the National Assembly draws closer to its last date of March 16, all eyes are on the selection of a caretaker prime minister.

The ruling and opposition parties have both given the impression that the selection process be completed in accordance with the Constitution without any hassle, but in the background intermediaries from the two sides are reported to be involved in intense talks.

Although the Constitution is quite clear that in case of disagreement between the ruling and opposition parties, the decision about the caretaker prime minister will be made by the Election Commission, a political deadlock between the two may have serious implications for the election.

Under the Constitution, in case of a deadlock between the government and the opposition the ECP will be asked to pick one of the four nominees — two from each side.

If the ECP chooses a government nominee the opposition will cry foul and vice versa.

Therefore, sources told Dawn, both parties were working hard so that the leader of opposition in the National Assembly and the prime minister agreed on one name.

PPP chief whip in the National Assembly Khurshid Shah and Law Minister Farooq H. Naek are representing the government and Senator Ishaq Dar and Khwaja Asif the PML-N, although informally, in the talks.

The two parties are talking about a possible trade-off; the caretaker prime minister of PPP’s choice and Punjab’s caretaker chief minister of PML-N’s, according to a PPP minister.

He said that in case of successful talks a similar give and take will take place for other provinces. The PML-N will support JUI-F’s nominee in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The leaders of the two announced recently that they would cooperate with each other in the run-up to the election.

A PML-N leader said his party would have no objection over selection of the caretaker chief minister of Sindh if the ruling coalition in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa agreed to let a JUI-F nominee head the government there during the transition.

According to a PML-N office-bearer close its leadership, the party’s trump card to force the PPP to accept its conditions is the late expiry date of the Punjab Assembly.

While the National Assembly will complete its five-year term on March 16, the tenure of the Punjab Assembly will end on April 8. The provincial assemblies of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Sindh and Balochistan will complete their terms on March 27, April 4 and April 8.

Leader of Opposition in National Assembly Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan has repeatedly said that in case the PPP attempts to bulldoze the process of selection for the caretaker set-ups in the provinces where the PML-N lacks representation, the ruling party in Punjab will not listen to the PPP on the issue of holding the election for all the assemblies on the same day.

If the PML-N government decides to complete its constitutional term on April 8 and the National Assembly is dissolved on March 16, it will be almost impossible for the ECP to hold the election on the same day.

Traditionally, elections have been held on the same day but there is no mandatory constitutional requirement to that effect.

Justice (retired) Tariq Mehmood, a constitutional expert, believes the two sides will try to resolve the issue at the political level, without intervention of the ECP.

It would be a major setback for both President Asif Ali Zardari and PML-N chief Mian Nawaz Sharif if they ended up in a stalemate over the caretaker set-up and allowed the five-member ECP to decide the name of the caretaker prime minister, he said.

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