The top leadership of the ruling coalition got together for an ‘introspective’ huddle on Tuesday, following Sunday’s crushing defeat in the Punjab by-polls, and resolved to save the Punjab government at any cost and announce the next general elections after completing the current assembly’s term till August 2023, Dawn reported.
It said the “bigwigs of the nine-party ruling alliance were unanimous that the Shehbaz Sharif-led government in the Centre should complete its tenure for one major reason — it had taken harsh economic decisions, and it paid the price by facing defeat in the Punjab by-polls. Now, there was no need to panic and give in to Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) chairman Imran Khan’s demands for early elections.”
The coalition partners also supported PM Shehbaz for launching ‘concrete efforts’ and exploring all possible ways to save his son Hamza Shehbaz’s office as the Punjab chief minister from the joint PTI-PML-Q candidate, Chaudhry Parvez Elahi.
The top leadership of the ruling alliance, including JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman, PPP leader Asif Ali Zardari, MQM-P’s Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui, and Wasim Akhtar, federal minister Tariq Bashir Cheema from the PML-Q (Shujaat group), Mian Iftikhar Hussain of the ANP, Shah Owais Noorani of Jamiat Ulema-i-Pakistan, Jamhoori Watan Party’s Shahzain Bugti, Punjab CM Hamza Shehbaz, PML-N federal ministers Marriyum Aurangzeb, Fahd Hussain, Azam Nazir Tarar and Saad Rafique, and former National Assembly speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq, attended the meeting hosted by Prime Minister Sharif at his Model Town residence.
Dawn cited a source as saying that “almost all the participants vociferously backed the suggestion that the coalition government should complete its term till August next year.” “We have taken tough economic decisions, and by the time we go to the general polls next year, the situation will be different. We don’t need to be afraid of Imran… rather, we have to get tough with him and respond in a befitting manner,” he said.
PML-N, PPP, and JUI-F leaders told PM Sharif not to hand over Punjab to the PTI-PML-Q without a tough fight. “Hamza should not resign. The coalition will explore ways to retain him as the CM at all costs,” the source told Dawn, quoting a meeting participant.
“Leaders of the main coalition parties – PML-N, PPP and JUI-F – told PM Sharif to pull up his socks and, come what may, not hand over Punjab to the PTI-PML-Q without a tough fight.”
This is silly. The bye-elections were the “tough fight.” It’s over.https://t.co/r8Xg90M9JW
— Madiha Afzal (@MadihaAfzal) July 20, 2022
During the huddle, Hamza spent time with Zardari and got some ‘important tips’ regarding retaining his office. “Losing Punjab means losing the Centre, and we can’t afford this,” maintained a participant. “Explore all legal and the required options to save the coalition government in Punjab,” he said. No one in the meeting disagreed with his opinion.
After the gathering, Railways Minister Saad Rafique, along with members of the allied parties, declared at a press conference that the federal government wasn’t going anywhere. He presented the coalition’s ‘official stance’ of coming to power after toppling the Imran government, saying it was done “in the larger interest of the country. The PTI government had laid economic landmines, but we took tough decisions to save Pakistan and did not bother about our politics”.
Rafique played down the PML-N and its allies’ defeat in the by-polls, saying his party snatched four seats from the PTI and claimed their vote increased by 39 per cent. He refused to concur with the impression that the poll results had anything to do with the popularity of any party.
The minister was very critical of Imran Khan, saying the former premier wanted the army chief, chief justice of Pakistan, and the chief election commissioner of his choice as he thought of himself as the “Ameerul Momineen.”
The minister also targeted the judiciary for not taking up the cases of PML-N leaders. He said court verdicts should not be announced under the ‘doctrine of necessity and urged the judiciary not to interfere in legislation, which was the domain of parliament. He asked the Supreme Court to hear the review petition against its judgment on the presidential reference on Article 63-A. He also asked the election commission to decide the foreign funding case of the PTI.
Federal Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb said the next general elections would be held when the incumbent government and the ECP decided.
With input from Dawn