July 21, 2023
ISLAMABAD – Leader of the Opposition in National Assembly Raja Riaz said on Thursday a meeting between him and Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif was expected around August 1, during which they would consult on the candidates for the caretaker PM ahead of the elections.
“My meeting with the prime minister is expected around August 1 where we will exchange names for the caretaker prime minister.
“A meeting or two more will be held to decide whether we agree on a name,” he told Independent Urdu.
The opposition leader’s statement comes as political parties, particularly those part of the ruling coalition, increasingly engage in consultations — reportedly on the timing of the elections and the caretaker setup, among other matters — ahead of the general elections.
Meanwhile, the legally required consultations that must take place between the prime minister and opposition leader over candidates for the caretaker government have yet to begin.
Riaz told Independent Urdu and he and the premier were to recommend three names for the caretaker prime minister each, adding that if they did not agree on a name, the matter would be referred to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP).
“The election commission will select a name from the six proposed by us, which is according to rules and regulations,” he said.
On this, a Dawn editorial said last week, “The names of several controversial characters have been doing the rounds, and it is with quiet trepidation that many have been speculating the actual ‘mandate’ of the interim set-up that will be announced.”
It further pointed out: “Given the absence of any real opposition in the National Assembly, the consultation process, at the moment, appears to be a mere formality. The opposition leader, a PTI turncoat keen on securing a ticket from another political party, is unlikely to have any strong or independent opinions on the matter.”
Riaz, who is PTI dissident, also said in the interview that a group comprising the party’s dissidents would also be formed.
Asked whether the PTI-Parliamentarians — a breakaway faction of the PTI led by former defence minister Pervez Khattak — he said, “All of them are contacting us but we are around 22 people who will decide on this matter mutually. We will start holding meetings regarding this from August 1.”
To a question about the date for the dissolution of assemblies, he said as per the information he had, they would dissolve on August 8 — four days before the end of their term on August 12.
According to Article 224 of the Constitution, “A general election to the National Assembly or a provincial assembly shall be held within a period of 60 days immediately following the day on which the term of the assembly is due to expire, unless the Assembly has been sooner dissolved”.
In case of early dissolution, the ECP is bound to hold the general elections within a period of 90 days after the dissolution, according to Article 224(2).
The caretaker government would then be formed keeping in view the holding of elections in the 90-day period, he said, asserting that the caretaker setup would be bound to go for polls within 90 days.
For his part, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has announced that the government would be handing over the country’s reins to a caretaker setup in August.
Meanwhile, confusion also persists about whether the coalition partners would go for the normal dissolution of the NA on completion of its term on August 12, or advise the president for an early dissolution.
Earlier this week, Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb asserted that no decision had been taken yet by the incumbent government and its allies regarding the dissolution date of the National Assembly.
Reacting to media reports about the NA’s early dissolution on August 8, days before its term completes on August 12, the information minister told Dawn.com: “A decision has not been taken yet on the NA’s dissolution date.”
Mainstream media has also been reporting contradictory statements from various leaders of the coalition parties regarding the timing of the general elections. Federal Minister for Commerce Naveed Qamar, who belongs to the PPP, had recently statedenter link description here that the assembly should be dissolved on August 8 to enable the Election Commission of Pakistan sufficient time to hold elections in November.
However, another cabinet member belonging to the PPP, had claimed that there had been no decision in the party about the date for the dissolution of the NA and that Qamar’s statement was his “personal opinion or suggestion”.
Another key cabinet member belonging to the ruling PML-N had told Dawn that the date of the assembly’s dissolution would be finalised by the coalition partners “very soon.”
“It will be a collective decision of the Pakistan Democratic Movement and other coalition parties,” the minister had said.
Earlier today, ECP Special Secretary Zafar Iqbal assured that the electoral watchdog was “fully prepared” for elections and would hold the polls by October 11 if the NA was dissolved on August 12, when its five-year term comes to an end.
Another matter that has come to the spotlight with regard to elections is that of the census.
IInterior Minister Rana Sanaullah has said that the government would not notify the results of the new digital 2023 census and that the elections would be held on the 2017 population count. He said the decision was taken as the new census had “issues” and various stakeholders also had concerns over it.
This was also reiterated by Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar earlier this week, prompting a terse response from the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM-P) that demanded fresh delimitations on the basis of the latest census.
While PM Shehbaz has formed a committee to address the MQM-P’s grievances, the ECP special secretary told reporters today that if the results of the new census were not notified, the decision on this matter would be taken according to the law.
Regarding the in-camera meeting of the parliamentary committee on electoral reforms — which are being held to propose changes to the elections laws — the official said the ECP had given over 60 recommendations to the committee.
“As per my knowledge, almost all of our recommendations have been accepted, but it is too early to say anything until matters are finalised,” he added.