Pakistan’s coalition government and former prime minister Imran Khan’s party made “big progress” after they agreed to hold general elections in the entire country on the same day but still differed on the date of the polls.
The decision was taken in overnight parleys to end a deadlock over the timing of provincial and federal elections, an issue that has rocked the country’s politics for months.
The talks were being held in the backdrop of the controversy with Mr. Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) seeking early polls – particularly in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa where assemblies were dissolved in January – and the government maintaining that provincial and federal elections across the country be held on the same day in October.
The third and key round of talks between the coalition government and PTI began on May 2 night to discuss proposals for holding elections on the same day in the country.
“There was no longer any confusion about whether there should be separate elections in one or two provinces and the two sides have agreed that holding elections in the country on the same day was for the betterment,” Ishaq Dar was quoted as saying by the Dawn newspaper.
He added that another positive outcome of the talks was that elections would be held under caretaker setups.
However, he added, a consensus was yet to be reached on the date of the elections.
“We have narrowed down on the date… but we have yet to reach an agreement,” he said, adding that both sides would consult their leadership on the matter.
He termed the consensus on holding one-day elections in the country as “big progress”.
The minister said both sides have shown flexibility and if they continue to work towards a resolution with sincerity, “the third stage (finalisation of the election date), which will be the final stage, will also be successful”.
Speaking alongside him, PPP’s Yousuf Raza Gilani said it was also agreed that both sides would accept the election results.
The government side included Ishaq Dar, Khawaja Saad Rafique, Azam Nazeer Tarar and Sardar Ayaz Sadiq from the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and they are joined by Yusuf Raza Gilani and Syed Naveed Qamar from the Pakistan Peoples Party and other parties in the coalition government.
The PTI, which is the main opposition party, fielded its Vice Chairman Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Senior Vice President Fawad Chaudhry and Senator Ali Zafar for talks.
Meanwhile, PTI’s Qureshi said while briefing the media about the meeting that his party has agreed to the government’s proposals of holding elections on the same day under caretaker setups.
But, he added, an agreement was yet to be reached on the date for dissolving the National Assembly and Sindh and Balochistan assemblies, as well as the date for elections.
Qureshi said the PTI has proposed that these assemblies be dissolved before or on May 14 before polls were held simultaneously across the country.
The talks being held in the Parliament House were scheduled to begin at 11.00 a.m. on May 2 but were delayed until 9.00 p.m. As the two sides announced last week, they would discuss each other’s proposals to end the deadlock over elections.
Earlier, Mr. Khan said that the government should dissolve all assemblies by May 14 to pave the way for holding elections in the entire country on the same date. However, the government is not ready to dissolve assemblies.
The first round of talks was held on April 27 which went on for two hours and the rivals decided to meet again after consulting their party heads. It was followed by the second round on April 28 when two sessions were held and at the end Mr. Dar said each side had tabled two proposals, which would be presented to the respective leadership.
The issue of elections has rocked Pakistani politics as Mr. Khan demanded snap polls when he was voted out of power in April last year. As he failed to get his goal through protest, Mr. Khan dissolved the assemblies in Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa in January by using his party’s governments in the two provinces.
He wanted to put pressure on by the law, elections should be held within 90 days of the dissolution of an assembly.
However, the government used delaying tactics by citing a lack of funds and a rise in terrorism to set a date for polls in the two provinces while pushing the narrative that the elections should be held on the same day in the country after the completion of the term of the National Assembly in August.
The problems began when the issue landed in the Supreme Court which after a hearing ordered that elections should be held in Punjab on May 14 and the government should provide Rs 21 billion for its to the Election Commission of Pakistan. It had set April 27 as the last date for the provision of funds.
The government has not provided the funds and openly announced to defy the order to hold the elections on May 14.
The talks began when the apex court indicated that it was ready to show flexibility on the election date if the political parties agreed on a consensus to hold elections in the entire country on the same date.