LAHORE – The longstanding national anxiety over the election date would be over soon as the government coalition partners have given their word to Minhajul Quran chief to announce precise date for upcoming polls and dissolution of the assemblies within seven to ten days.
A government team led by Makhdoom Amin Fahim held first round of talks with Dr Tahirul Qadri at Minhaj headquarters Sunday to streamline the four-point Islamabad Long March Declaration regarding conduct of elections and the related matters. The government also reiterated its commitment that elections would be held within 90 days of the dissolution of assembles. However, the most significant outcome of negotiations was government’s commitment to give a precise date for elections and dissolution of assemblies. Moreover, the government agreed to give legal cover to the proposed electoral reforms before the next meeting, whose date would be fixed on January 31.The govt side also conceded to Qadri’s demand that his organisation would also be made part of the consultation process for selection of caretaker chief ministers, apart from that of the caretaker prime minister as already agreed upon between the two sides.
But the deadlock over dissolution of the Election Commission persisted as Dr Qadri insisted the appointment of four provincial election commissioners was unconstitutional. However he reiterated his confidence in the impartiality of Chief Election Commissioner Fakhruddin G Ibrahim.The absence of Law Minister Farooq H Naek also irked Dr Qadri, but he didn’t press this point after the law minister talked to him on telephone.At the parleys, Qadri came up with a new demand that all discretionary funds of the prime minister and the development funds being given to the parliamentarians should be freezed forthwith and instead diverted to the people through provision of 50 per cent subsidy on electricity, gas and six essential commodities like rice, wheat flour, pulses, ghee, tea and milk.Dr Qadri in his media talk argued that use of development funds by ruling parties’ candidates was against the principle of providing level playing field to the contesting candidates. In this context, the Minhaj chief also made a mention of laptop scheme of Punjab government and the BISP being executed by the federal government.When a questioner pointed out that this point was not part of Islamabad Declaration, Qadri replied that the demand has been made in the light of article 218 of the constitution which the government had already agreed to implement in letter and spirit.Dr Qadri threatened that if the demand regarding freezing of development funds was not met, his party reserved the right to take any course, both legal and that of making recourse to the public to agitate the issue. He asserted Supreme Court decision on use of official resources to influence the polls must be implemented.
Another point of discord was Dr Qadri’s insistence on making the ECP powerful enough to take pre-emptive measures in anticipation of any unjust practices that could affect the transparency of the electoral process. He also refereed to Peoples Representation Act, 1976 which provides for holding free and fair elections.Asked why he did not press on his earlier demand regarding guarantees from the army and the judiciary to ensure implementation of his reforms agenda, Qadri said after acceptance of his demands by the government and the subsequent signatures on the agreement by all the coalition partners, there was no point in sticking to that. “It is no more an issue; it ceased to exist on the day the decoration was signed,” he affirmed.Federal Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira told media representatives after the meeting that appointment of caretaker prime minister and the chief ministers would be undertaken as per the constitutional process [in consultation with the Opposition], but the government on its side would also consult Dr Qadri.On dissolution of ECP, Kaira said that a seven-member team comprising renowned legal experts was constituted as per the agreement to advise the government which has recommended that the commission cannot be dissolved under the constitution. “Also, the government cannot revert the decision of the parliamentary committee as it would be against the constitution”, he explained.In a lighter vein though, Kaira hoped that Dr Qadri would agitate this issue on some forum rather than staging ‘Dhrana’.
He assured that government would implement articles 62 and 63 along with the provisions of Peoples Representation Act for conduct of transparent and fair elections. The Supreme Court decision, in this regard, would also be applicable on the government and other stakeholders, he said.On Dr Qadri’s demands that ECP should be empowered to take pre-emptive actions and freezing of development funds, the minister said that parliament could not be stopped from performing its functions. “It is customary and legal all over the world that governments continue their ongoing development schemes till completion of their tenures,” he substantiated his point, adding that ECP had no legal authority to take pre-emptive actions before putting in place of the caretaker setup.
Regarding Dr Qadri’s demand of providing level playing field to all candidates, he said that for the first time in country’s history, the present government had also provided develop funds to opposition members. Besides, the federal government had no control over discretionary funds and development schemes were being executed under the provincial and district governments, he added.But having said this, Kaira made a commitment that all development funds would be stopped at start of the election process.He also told reporters that it has been agreed between the two sides that they would oppose tooth and nail any attempt to delay the elections during the process of scrutiny of candidates’ credentials.Replying to a question, he said that government wanted to hold elections to national and provincial assemblies on the same day and they hope a consensus would be achieved over it.To a question about simultaneous dissolution of national and provincial assemblies, Kaira said that government will talk to Nawaz Sharif in this regard. He said the government didn’t attach any importance to Ch Nisar’s statement that key to assemblies dissolution lies with PML-N. – Nation