Islamabad/Lahore, Feb 11 (PTI) The three main political parties in Pakistan on Sunday intensified their efforts for the formation of a coalition government after it became clear that the coup-prone country faced a hung Parliament after general elections marred by allegations of rigging.
The general elections were held on Thursday, but the unusual delay in the announcement of results vitiated the atmosphere as several parties cried foul and some resorted to protests.
Former prime minister and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz supremo Nawaz Sharif received the backing of the powerful Pakistan Army chief General Asim Munir on Saturday for his call for a unity government to pull Pakistan out of its current difficulties.
Amidst allegations of vote rigging and inordinate delay in announcing the results, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Sunday published the results of 264 out of 265 contested seats in the 266-member National Assembly. The result of one constituency was withheld by the ECP due to complaints of fraud. Election to one seat was postponed after the death of a candidate.
Independent candidates, a vast majority of them backed by jailed former prime minister Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), won 101 seats in the National Assembly.
They were followed by three-time former Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) with 75 seats, which technically is the single largest party in Parliament.
The Pakistan Peoples Party of Bilawal Zardari Bhutto got 54 seats, and the Karachi-based Muttahida Qaumi Movement Pakistan (MQM-P) of Urdu-speaking people who migrated from India during the Partition, got 17 seats. Other smaller parties won the rest of the 12 seats.
To form a government, a party must win 133 seats out of 265 contested seats in the National Assembly.
Overall, 169 seats are needed to secure a simple majority out of its total 336 seats, which include the reserved slots for women and minorities which will be decided later based on proportional representation.
The PML-N was leading the push to form the coalition government on the pattern of one it set up after Khan, 71, was removed as prime minister through a no-confidence vote in April 2022. Party supremo Sharif, 74, tasked his younger brother former premier Shehbaz Sharif to hold talks on the issue.
The PML-N leaders on Sunday held a meeting with MQM-P leaders in Lahore.
After an hour-long meeting, they have reached a “principle agreement” to work together in the upcoming government, according to a statement released by Sharif's party.
“We will work together in the interest of the country and public,” the statement said, adding that basic points had been agreed upon by the two parties.
MQM-P leader Haider Rizvi earlier told Geo News in an interview that his party would be more comfortable with the PML-N as the “two parties don’t compete in Karachi” unlike the PPP or other parties.
PML-N President Shehbaz on Saturday met senior PPP leaders Asif Ali Zardari and his Bilawal on Friday night and discussed the future coalition.
Shehbaz told the party leaders that former president and PPP leader Asif Zardari has demanded the prime minister's slot for PPP Chairman Bilawal and major ministerial portfolios in exchange for support for the PML-N to form the government, sources said.
Party sources added that so far making a coalition with Zardari was the first option the PML-N was exploring but didn’t want to give away the slot of prime minister.
Sources claimed the meeting decided that in case the negotiations with the PPP failed, the PML-N would make a coalition government with MQM, JUI-F and other smaller parties, including independents.
They further claimed that in this scenario, the PML-N would make Shehbaz Sharif the prime minister and Maryam Sharif the Chief Minister of Punjab.
"Shehbaz Sharif is the favourite for the PM office for being more close to the military establishment besides the PML-N has more seats in Parliament than the PPP," sources said.
"Shehbaz is a favourite of the military establishment which feels much comfortable working with him," they said.
Meanwhile, Bilawal, the 35-year-old former foreign minister said no one could form governments in the Centre, Punjab or Balochistan without his party’s support, and the PPP’s door was open to every political party for dialogue, as reconciliation was vital for political stability.
“So far, the PPP has not engaged officially with the PML-N, PTI or any other party. Once the results are finalised, then the Central Executive Committee of the party, which nominated me as the candidate, will sit again and devise the course of action,” he said.
It is believed that a newer version of the Pakistan Democratic Movement coalition, also called as PDM government, under Shehbaz Sharif was more likely based on the experience of running the government after Khan was removed.
Meanwhile, PTI leader Gohar Khan also claimed that his party would form the government but analysts believe that it was not possible.
Ahmed Bilal Mehboob of the Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency (PILDAT), however, said the PTI is not in a position to form the government without forming an alliance with major political parties like the PML-N or the PPP as it doesn’t have the required number for claiming majority in the lower house of Parliament.
The PILDAT chief also explained in detail what would happen if the PTI-affiliated independent candidates could join the PTI again during the three-day post-election period, The Express Tribune newspaper quoted Mehboob as saying.
He said it was possible. However, Mehboob explained that it will be a long route as it is mandatory that the party that the independent candidates want to join must have a party symbol.
PTI candidates contested as independents after the Supreme Court and Election Commission of Pakistan said they could not use the party symbol, a cricket bat.
Therefore, he said, if they want to join the PTI again, the PTI will have to hold intra-party elections and get its symbol back or any other symbol.
The PTI has rejected the “shameful” attempts at creating PDM 2.0 in the country by trampling on the intentions of the people, a statement released by the party said.
“The economic and administrative disaster that Pakistan is suffering today is the responsibility of PDM, an incompetent, worthless and rejected group of criminals," it said in a statement.
The statement said the PTI was the “largest and most popular party in the country” and it therefore had the basic constitutional, democratic, moral and political right to form a government.
“The chief election commissioner (CEC) and the Election Commission of Pakistan are the main facilitators in the open robbery of democracy,” it added.
The PTI also demanded the immediate resignation of the CEC and members of the ECP.
On Saturday, a statement attributed to the army chief Gen Munir said, "Pakistan’s diverse polity and pluralism will be well-represented by a unified government of all democratic forces imbibed with national purpose." The powerful Pakistan Army, which has ruled coup-prone Pakistan for more than half of its 75-plus years of existence, has wielded considerable power in the country's politics.
The Army chief noted that the people of Pakistan reposed their combined trust in the Constitution of Pakistan and it was now “incumbent upon all political parties to reciprocate the same with political maturity and unity.” Pakistan President Dr Arif Alvi on Sunday said the voters, particularly women and youth, have "not only spoken but shouted out loud their will" in the general elections and urged all political parties and institutions to "respect and recognise" the huge mandate of the citizens.
Alvi was a senior member of PTI before former prime minister Imran Khan made him the country's President in 2018.
Meanwhile, the PPP will hold its Central Executive Committee meeting at Zardari's House in Islamabad on Monday.
According to the sources, important decisions related to the formation of the government will be taken in the meeting.
In an editorial on the election outcome, the Dawn newspaper commented that Pakistan once again finds itself in a familiar place — one that is steeped in political uncertainty.
"As the wheeling and dealing proceeds, two things are clear: one, that however the PML-N cobbles this coalition together, its ‘victory’ will be more bitter than sweet," it said in an editorial.
Without the outcome it had hoped for, it is now left to perform that uneasy dance of give and take for political survival. This is certainly not the fantasy Sharif harboured when he returned to Pakistan after four years abroad, the editorial added. PTI SH MZ NSA AKJ AKJ