The Pakistani government and Imran Khan’s PTI agree on simultaneous polls

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By Webdesk

Islamabad, Pakistan Pakistan’s ruling alliance and the main opposition party have concluded a crucial round of talks with a consensus on holding simultaneous national and provincial elections in the country.

However, late Tuesday night talks between the ruling Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) and former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) ended without any agreement on an election date.

The two sides entered into negotiations after Pakistan’s Supreme Court last month ordered political parties to consult among themselves to set an election date.

Pakistan historically holds national and provincial elections together. There will be a general election in October this year.

But a crisis erupted in January after PTI, in an attempt to force the government to call early elections, decided to dissolve the legislative assemblies in its controlled provinces of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

After the government wavered in announcing an election date in the two provinces as mandated by a 90-day deadline in the constitution, the PTI petitioned the top court, which ordered provincial elections to be held in Punjab on April 4 May 14.

But the government says the ongoing economic and security crises currently make it difficult to hold any election drills and has even questioned the legality of the Supreme Court issuing such orders.

‘Great achievement’

Federal Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, who led talks on behalf of the government on Tuesday, later told reporters that reaching a consensus on holding elections jointly was a “great achievement”.

“However, the main point is to determine the date of the elections. Both sides have their own proposed dates, and we tried to narrow them down and showed elasticity in our approach,” he said.

“We sincerely hope that both parties continue in the same way.”

Shah Mahmood Qureshi, senior PTI leader who led his party in the talks, said it was a “complicated process” to agree on a single poll date, adding that both sides were trying to find common ground.

“We need to find a mechanism to agree on an election date to make sure we can move forward,” he said.

Qureshi said the PTI was ready for a law change that would mandate elections within 90 days of the dissolution of a legislative assembly.

“PTI is ready to go to parliament and provide constitutional cover for postponing the election in a one-off amendment,” he said.

A two-thirds majority in the National Assembly is required for any constitutional amendment. However, after Khan was ousted from government last year, the PTI has refused to be part of parliamentary proceedings in protest.

Qureshi added that any agreement they reach with the government must be in writing and approved by the Supreme Court to ensure its implementation.

PTI leader Fawad Chaudhry, who also took part in talks with the government, told Al Jazeera on Wednesday that his party insisted on holding national and provincial elections on May 14.

“But their position is that this date is too early. They seem willing to break up the meetings, but don’t know when to do so. We look forward to a solution,” he told Al Jazeera.

Malik Ahmad Khan, Special Assistant to Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, questioned the PTI’s position.

“If meetings are dissolved because of political opportunism, it would be mala fide. It is important that we have transitional governments everywhere before general elections,” he told Al Jazeera.

Political analyst Syed Talat Hussain said he was unsure of the success of the ongoing negotiations between the government and the main opposition party.

“These negotiations are doomed to fail. They were not initiated by any political desire of the participants to resolve the issue, but this was dictated by the Supreme Court, which itself is controversial in the eyes of the government,” he told Al Jazeera.

Lahore-based analyst Benazir Shah was also skeptical about the outcome of the talks.

“There is a clear lack of trust between the two parties, who have not been together for a conversation for years. PTI, even when in power, had taken a hardline stance on holding talks with other political parties, often saying they would rather negotiate with terrorists than with their political rivals,” she told Al Jazeera.

Shah said another electoral factor could hamper the announcement of an election date in the country.

“Once the census is completed, the process of delimiting constituencies begins, which can take between four and five months, meaning no elections can be held before October or November. It would only make sense if the new polls were conducted using an updated census. If PTI can be convinced of this, there may be a way forward,” she said.

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