ISLAMABAD: The deadlock over the appointment of a caretaker prime minister and dissolution of all provincial assemblies on the same day persisted on Saturday as the government and the opposition stuck to their stance of rejecting each other’s nominees.
After dissolution of the National Assembly on Saturday night, Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf and the Leader of the Opposition, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, have another three days to reach an agreement on the caretaker prime minister.
They talked to each other by telephone on Friday, but there was no formal contact between them or their representatives on Saturday.
In a last-ditch effort to reach consensus on the issues of appointment of the caretaker set-ups and holding of general elections all over the country on the same day, the prime minister held a meeting with the four chief ministers on Saturday afternoon.
An official statement issued after the meeting claimed that it was on the prime minister’s proposal that the chief ministers had “agreed in principle that the elections of National and provincial assemblies will be held in the country on the same day for logistical, administrative and financial reasons, which would also promote political harmony in the country”.
It says the meeting was held in a “cordial environment” and that the participants had “expressed the confidence that all the matters relating to the appointment of caretaker set-ups at the federal and provincial levels would be resolved amicably”.
The official statement, however, had no mention of the date on which all the provincial assemblies would be dissolved, indicating that the participants had failed to reach an understanding on simultaneous dissolution of the assemblies.
Balochistan Governor Zulfiqar Magsi also attended the meeting.
Sources said Prime Minister Ashraf later also had had a one-to-one meeting with Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif.
Sources in the PML-N told Dawn that although the opposition party had a desire that the elections for National and provincial assemblies should be held on the same day, Shahbaz Sharif had given no commitment to the prime minister that the Punjab Assembly would be dissolved simultaneously with other three provincial assemblies.
When Balochistan Chief Minister Aslam Raisani was quoted by electronic media as stating that all the provincial assemblies would be dissolved on March 19, Mr Sharif at a news conference in Lahore immediately denied that any such decision had been taken in the meeting.
Talking to reporters last week, Chaudhry Nisar had categorically stated that the Punjab Assembly “will not be dissolved on March 16 if the government continues to play tricks in Sindh and Balochistan”. “The Punjab Assembly will be dissolved on March 16 only if a consensus on the caretaker set-ups (in all provinces) is reached before time,” he had said, adding otherwise the Punjab Assembly would complete its constitutional term ending in April.
Meanwhile, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) on Saturday officially rejected PML-N nominees Justice (retd) Nasir Aslam Zahid and Sindhi nationalist leader Rasul Bakhsh Palijo for the office of the caretaker prime minister. Chaudhry Nisar, who had earlier withdrawn the name of Justice (retd) Shakirullah Jan from his list of nominees during his telephonic conversation with the prime minister, had already discarded all the three candidates proposed by the government.
Talking to reporters outside the PM House on Saturday, Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira said the PPP did not enjoy good relations with both Justice Zahid and Mr Palijo.
Mr Kaira, who is also the information secretary of the PPP, said Justice Zahid “will be unable to do justice with the PPP” as he was the brother-in-law of Justice Nizam Ahmed who was assassinated in Karachi in 1996 and later President Asif Ali Zardari had been implicated in the murder case.
Similarly, he said, the son of Mr Palijo was heading an anti-PPP alliance in Sindh and was running a campaign against the party.
Mr Kaira said the government was trying to create a consensus over caretaker set-ups and the meeting between the prime minister and the chief ministers was also aimed at reaching an agreement on the issue.
He also rejected media reports that the government had withdrawn the name of former finance minister Abdul Hafeez Shaikh from its list of nominees for the caretaker prime minister. Former State Bank governor Dr Ishrat Husain and Justice (retd) Mir Hazar Khan Khoso are the other government nominees.
Responding to a question, Mr Kaira said there was still a possibility that the two sides proposed new names for the post of the caretaker prime minister.
After issuance of a notification by the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs about dissolution of the National Assembly on expiry of its five-year term on Saturday night, the matter will now be settled under Article 224A of the constitution that describes the procedure for the appointment of the caretaker prime minister and chief ministers in case the government and the opposition parties fail to reach consensus.
The leaders of the house and that of the opposition now have three days to reach an agreement on the caretaker prime minister.
If they failed to do so the matter will go to an eight-member bipartisan parliamentary committee which will choose one name from the four nominees – two each from the prime minister and the leader of opposition — within three days.The two sides can also bring in more names for consideration by the committee.
If the committee also fails to decide on a name, the Election Commission of Pakistan will select the caretaker prime minister within two days.