The only positive outcome of the recent round of talks is the PTI’s decision to sit down with the PDM to discuss the political impasse
he ruling Pakistan Democratic Alliance (PDM) and the opposition Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) failed in their talks this week to reach a consensus on the date for general elections.
The failure has led to an increase in the political uncertainty. It seems that mainstream political parties and major state institutions are unable to make courageous decisions. Only a commitment to resolve all issues through political dialogue, tolerance of opposition and putting the country first can lead to an agreement and end the dangerous deadlock.
While hearing the election case, Chief Justice Umar Atta Bandial had remarked that political parties should hold talks to resolve the issue of elections on the same day. He pointed out that the court had already issued an order for holding elections in the Punjab on May 14. Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani then played an important role, offering his good offices and nudging the two sides to the negotiation table. Committees nominated by the two sides then held three rounds of talks. Former prime minister Imran Khan, through his representatives Shah Mehmood Qureshi and Fawad Chaudhry, demanded the dissolution of the National Assembly before May 14.
This demand was not accepted by the PDM’s team. Therefore the talks ended without an agreement. The only positive outcome of the negotiation was the demonstration by the PTI of initiative and flexibility required to sit with the PDM to discuss something, even though this appeared to be on the apex court’s advice. This can open up a way for the two sides to sit together in the future and might lead to reduced polarisation.
After the failure of the talks, the PTI submitted a report in the Supreme Court of Pakistan and requested the court to ensure that elections to the Punjab Assembly were held on May 14 and issue an order for elections at the earliest in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
On the other hand, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has filed a review petition against the April 4 order of the Supreme Court of Pakistan. Through the petition, the ECP has tried to remind the CJP that issuing a date for the election was not a job for the Supreme Court of Pakistan. The review petition, it has been suggested, has provided the apex court another opportunity to form a bench consisting of all judges.
However, there has been no sign of a cooling down between the Supreme Court and the parliament. A bench headed by the chief justice has stayed the implementation of the Supreme Court Procedure and Practice Bill. It has also asked the National Assembly speaker for proceedings of the House.
Khan and the PTI are also unprepared forMay 14 elections, but they want to use the court’s order to keep the PDM under pressure. “Khan is ready for same-day elections across Pakistan but he thinks those should happen no later than July 23,” a PTI insider said.
The majority coalition in the National Assembly has responded strongly. Defence Minister Khawaja Asif made a fiery speech in the House, urging the speaker to turn down the court’s directive about the provision of the record. “You must write a letter to the SC and seek the record of the [election case] proceedings in which four judges wrote dissenting notes,” he said.
“It is high time they are held accountable for their deeds. We, the politicians, are still facing accountability for things we have never done. We are giving explanations for the deeds of our forefathers. The same rules must be applied to others… They must explain why they hanged Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and disqualified Yousaf Raza Gilani and Nawaz Sharif. The parliament will not sacrifice another prime minister.”
Public Accounts Committee Chairman Noor Alam Khan said that he would call the Registrar of the Supreme Court and ask him to submit details of various cases.
Later, Asif remained in the line of fire for his speech which many found indefensible. The PTI chairman, meanwhile, announced that the party would stage a protest demonstration on April 29 for one hour to express solidarity with the CJP. It is a politically shrewd move. Unfortunately it gives the impression that the Judiciary stands alone and needs support. The PTI protests in support of the Judiciary can also make future judgments more controversial.
It appears that Khan and the PTI are also unprepared for May 14 elections. However, they want to use the SC order to keep the PDM under pressure. “Khan is ready for same-day elections across Pakistan but he thinks that those should be held no later than July 23,” says a PTI insider.
If the Supreme Court sticks to its April 4 verdict and orders the ECP to hold elections in the Punjab on May 14, this might result in a lowering of the standards and several procedural violations. If the apex court holds the ECP and the government in contempt and proceeds against them, this will further complicate the situation.
The only way forward, it seems is to constitute a bench comprising all judges of the Supreme Court to hear the review petition filed by the ECP in the election case. However, in the past, the court has ruled that the constitution of the benches is a matter for the chief justice alone and resisted all demands for full court benches in important constitutional/ political cases.
It appears that if the full court rules that the elections must be held on May 14 - or not later than May 30 - the ECP will be in a position to comply and that other stakeholders too might not have another option left.
The writer is a senior journalist, teacher of journalism, writer and analyst. He tweets at @BukhariMubasher