Railways Minister Khawaja Saad Rafique on Tuesday announced the incumbent government has decided to complete its constitutional tenure, stressing that the results of the Punjab by-elections are not a fair metric of national sentiment.
Addressing a press conference in Lahore alongside coalition partners after a huddle of the senior leadership, he dismissed speculation that the PTI’s landslide win in the recently concluded Punjab by-elections had convinced the federal government to dissolve the National Assembly and announce early elections. On Sunday, the PTI won 15 of 20 seats in the Punjab by-elections against the PMLN’s 4 and one for an independent candidate.
Stressing that these results did not accurately reflect national sentiment, Rafique said the coalition government had still “technically” won five of the 20 seats being contested. He said the PMLN had rendered several sacrifices for democracy in Pakistan, adding the party knows how to “secure” its political future but had opted to work for the betterment of the country at the cost of its popularity.
“The Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) requests [the judiciary] to respect the decisions made by Parliament. We have reservations on the judicial interpretation of Article 63(A),” he said, referring to the Supreme Court’s ruling that lawmakers’ votes in Parliament would not be counted if they went against party instructions. “Legislation is the Parliament’s prerogative and it should not be interfered with,” he added.
Taking aim at PTI Chairman Imran Khan, the minister described him as a “conspirator” who was not “mentally fit.” Maintaining that the PMLN was “applauding” its win on four seats in the by-polls, he questioned why the person who secured 15 seats was “still crying.” The results of the by-polls, he stressed, had proven that the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and the security establishment were now neutral.
Rafique also echoed an earlier statement of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif in demanding that the ECP announce its verdict on the PTI’s “foreign funding” case swiftly, lamenting that it had already been pending for several years.
Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (Fazl) leader Akram Khan Durrani, meanwhile, said Khan’s tirades against the ECP and the judiciary were aimed at humiliating national institutions. “If he [Khan] does not stop, the law will take its course,” he claimed.
According to sources who participated in the meeting, the coalition partners agreed that early elections were not a good option at this stage. They said the leadership of PDM’s component parties had stressed that it was time to stop being on the back-foot in the government’s dealings with the PTI, adding that it was now time to respond to Khan in a “befitting” manner.
The sources said the parties had also decided to make serious efforts to ensure Hamza Shehbaz is not ousted as chief minister of Punjab. While they did not specify how the coalition partners hoped to achieve this—the PTI and PMLQ currently have a combined 188 seats in the Punjab Assembly, while the PDM has just 175—Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah had earlier hinted at “some” lawmakers “choosing” not to attend the voting session. Also on Tuesday, PPP’s Asif Ali Zardari paid a visit to PMLQ President Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain and sought his help in securing the PMLN-led government in Punjab. Hussain had earlier issued a statement saying all 10 lawmakers of his party in the Punjab Assembly would support Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi against Hamza in the election for chief minister.