Democratic Transition: Sparring Rivals Converge Behind Closed Doors

ppp and pml nLAHORE: For all their barbed exchanges in public, the country’s two largest parties have met two-thirds of the way in backdoor negotiations over the democratic transition process, well-placed sources told The Express Tribune.

The ruling Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) have agreed to four out of their six-point negotiation agenda comprising discussions over Senate elections, snap polls and their modalities, interim set-up, accountability bill, a strong and independent poll supervisory body and the issue of new provinces. Both parties have agreed to continue their negotiations over the remaining items, sources said, adding that President Asif Ali Zardari and PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif are closely monitoring the negotiations process, ongoing for the last two weeks. Close and trustworthy associates of both leaders are conducting the negotiations – Senator Pervez Rashid on Nawaz’s behalf and Malik Riaz, the real-estate tycoon, on behalf of the president.

Negotiators

Sources said both Rashid and Riaz first met two weeks ago and discussed the agenda. Both report to their leaders promptly and are aided by a few men who provide the technical support for negotiations, sources added. The two parties have converged on four points – early elections after the budget, Senate elections, accountability bill, and an independent poll commission. The modalities of general elections and the interim set-up will be discussed by a different set of negotiators, sources said, adding that the recent meeting between Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan and Senator Ishaq Dar was a part of the negotiations. Dar and Ahsan reportedly discussed details of the interim setup and modalities of forthcoming general elections. The last point, new provinces, will be discussed by the top leaders – Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, and Leader of the Opposition in National Assembly Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan.

Compromises

Sources further said that both parties have decided to leave judicial issues to the courts. The PML-N would wait for the verdicts, but has decided to not resign from the assemblies – national, or Punjab. The PML-N has also reportedly suspended its movement against the president. Nawaz took stern notice of Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif’s statements against President Zardari, and has asked him to refrain until negotiations are in progress, sources in the party told The Express Tribune. In return though, sources say, the PML-N has informed PPP it would hold a public gathering in Multan in a month’s time to improve its party graph. The PML-N lost its strength in Multan city after the resignation of former stalwart Javed Hashmi.

Confirmations

The negotiation process was confirmed by senior federal minister and Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) chief Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi while talking to The Express Tribune. He added, however, that his party would step in to incorporate their suggestions once the dialogue matures.
If the PML-N resigns from the Punjab Assembly, Elahi said they would form a government with the PPP in the province and have informed the PML-N thus. The PML-N cannot achieve much without negotiations with the PPP, he added. The negotiations were also confirmed by PPP’s former finance minister in the Punjab cabinet Chaudhry Tanveer Ashraf Kaira. He said that Dar and Ahsan discussed the interim set-up during their negotiation. PML-N’s Information Secretary Senator Mushahid­dullah Khan, however, said he has no information about any ongoing negotiations.
He added, however, that the government and opposition discussing the modalities of the upcoming general elections, and the interim setup, was the norm. Malik Riaz and Senator Rashid could not be reached for comments, though. – tribune