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Pakistan political uncertainty continues

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Pakistan’s political stalemate after inconclusive elections last week showed no signs of ending on Tuesday as major parties struggle to cobble up alliances to pass the floor test.

In the latest development, jailed former Prime Minister Imran Khan has said that independent members of parliament backed by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) will join the minority Majlis-e-Wahdat-e-Muslimeen (MWM) party to form a government, an official of Khan’s party quoted him as saying on Tuesday. He also said that Khan will decide who the prime minister of this government will be.

Meanwhile, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, the largest party after the February 8 vote, said it continues to negotiate with the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), the second largest, to clinch a partnership.

PML-N leader Shehbaz Sharif challenged independent members backed by jailed former premier Imran Khan, who account for the highest number of seats, to form a government and prove their majority. He said if they cannot do so, other parties would.

Khan’s media team said the former prime minister had made it clear that members supported by PTI would not join forces with PML-N, PPP, and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), the three largest parties.

“We had two meetings and there will be more,” Sharif told reporters, referring to his party’s talks with PPP. “We will let the nation know when there is a decision. We all have to move together for the larger national interest.

“We will, God willing, play our role” to tackle the challenges Pakistan is facing, counter inflation, and fix the broken economy, said Sharif, 72, who was premier for 16 months until August.

He said PML-N numbers in parliament had risen to 80 from 75 on Monday with independents joining the party.

The two parties are wrangling over who will be prime minister, with both wanting the top job.

PPP divided on coalition

Meanwhile, the PPP appears to be split on whether to join a coalition government or sit in the opposition.

The Central Executive Committee (CEC) of the PPP which met in Islamabad to deliberate on the post-poll scenario and proposals regarding the coalition government has decided to reach out to all political parties, including the PTI-backed independents, for a possible power-sharing deal.

Addressing a press conference after the CEC meeting on Monday night, senator Sherry Rehman said, “The PPP will approach all (political) parties, and a committee will be set up.” The committee will be formed on Tuesday.

A highly reliable source within the party said this was the main reason for the party’s central executive committee which met on Monday. They failed to reach a final decision on whether to form a coalition government with the PML-N or sit on Opposition benches with the independents elected on PTI tickets.

“The PML-N is pressuring Asif Zardari to agree to power-sharing where sharing the prime minister’s post has also been discussed,” the source said. “The negotiations have centred around Shehbaz Sharif remaining prime minister for half of the elected term and then Bilawal Bhutto replacing him as leader of the House in Parliament,” he added.

The source confirmed that Bilawal and some of his like-minded supporters on the Central Executive Committee CEC of the PPP are not in favour of aligning with the PML-N as they point out that they are serious doubts over whether Nawaz Sharif, his brother Shahbaz Sharif and daughter, Maryam Nawaz did even win genuinely from their constituencies or were given a mandate by the establishment.

In his election rallies, Bilawal highlighted the need for a free and fair democracy and criticised the jail term given to Imran Khan.

US opposes protest ban

The United States has called for respect of freedom of assembly as Pakistani authorities warned they would ban protests by supporters of jailed prime minister Imran Khan after his bloc’s shock election triumph.

“We want to see the freedom of assembly respected anywhere in the world,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters when asked about Pakistani police’s use of a colonial-era law against public gatherings.

Miller reiterated previous US calls for an investigation into fraud claims but noted that the results showed a competitive vote. “We do think that the claims of fraud need to be fully investigated. That said, it was clearly a competitive election in which people were able to exercise their choice,” he said.

“Ultimately, we respect the democratic process and we’re ready to work with the government once it’s formed,” he said.

Delhi to ‘wait and watch’

Former Indian diplomats said Pakistan’s muddled poll result created difficulties for India’s relationship with its nuclear-armed rival and Delhi was likely to take a “wait-and-watch” approach.

Sharat Sabharwal, India’s high commissioner to Pakistan from 2009-2013, said it would also be difficult for a new Pakistani government to move forward in relations with India. “It needs political consensus to be able to move forward on that. And that consensus will not be there … if you do something on India, your opponents are going to immediately accuse you of a sell-off.”

UN chief watching closely

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is following the Pakistan situation “very closely” and has urged the authorities and political leaders to refrain from violence and avoid actions that could increase tensions.

Stephane Dujarric, spokesperson for the Secretary-General, made these remarks at the daily press briefing here on Monday. “On the elections in Pakistan, I can tell you that he is indeed following the situation very closely and continuing to monitor the situation following the general elections,” Dujarric said while responding to a question.

“The Secretary-General urges the authorities, and political leaders to maintain a calm atmosphere and to reject and refrain from all forms of violence and avoid any actions that could increase or enflame tensions,” Dujarric said.

Looming economic crisis

The ongoing stalemate in Pakistan has become a cause for concern as the nuclear-armed country grapples with an economic crisis and rising militant violence.

Pakistan narrowly averted sovereign default last summer through a last-gasp $3 billion bailout from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) – but the lender’s support ends in March, following which a new, extended programme will be needed.

Negotiating a new programme, and at speed, will be critical for the new government, which will take over an economy beset by record-high inflation and slow growth caused by tough reforms. (Agencies)

 

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