Pakistan PM Shehbaz Sharif consults allies on caretaker set-up

Islamabad: Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has held a meeting with leaders of the allied parties to discuss the name of a caretaker prime minister to oversee general elections in the cash-strapped country as the government is about to complete its constitutional term.

Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Chairman and Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Pakistan Democratic Movement and Jamiat Ulema Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman and other coalition leaders attended the meeting on Friday, The Express Tribune newspaper reported on Saturday.

During the meeting, the prime minister took the leaders of the allied parties into confidence on the caretaker set-up and dissolution of the National Assembly on August 9.

Following the deliberation, sources in the ruling alliance said, the heads of the allied parties lauded Shehbaz’s roughly 15-month government and expressed satisfaction with his leadership.

Shehbaz, 71, became the prime minister in April last year after the National Assembly passed a no-confidence motion against then-Prime Minister Imran Khan and ousted the chairman of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party from the top post. Khan’s PTI won the last general election in 2018.

During the meeting, sources said, the leadership of the ruling alliance deliberated upon different names for the caretaker prime minister and gave different suggestions about the future course of action.

The ruling coalition has held several meetings regarding the caretaker set-up but hasn’t yet reached any decision.

On Thursday night, Sharif had formally told leaders of the allied parties that he would send the advice to the president for the dissolution of the National Assembly on August 9, hoping that the consensus would be reached on the caretaker prime minister’s name by then.

According to the Constitution, the National Assembly will stand dissolved as soon as the president signs the advice.

Article 58 of the Constitution (dissolution of the National Assembly) states that the president shall dissolve the National Assembly if so advised by the prime minister; and the National Assembly shall, unless sooner dissolved, stand dissolved at the expiration of 48 hours after the prime minister has so advised.

The move will prompt general elections in Pakistan within 90 days.

The Constitution provides that if the assembly completes its tenure, elections are to be held in 60 days, but in case of premature dissolution – which will be the case here – this period is extended to 90 days.

Among those whose names have been taking rounds include former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, an independent lawmaker from Balochistan Aslam Bhootani, former finance minister Hafeez Sheikh and former principal secretary to prime minister Fawad Hassan Fawad, the paper said.

Initially, incumbent Finance Minister Ishaq Dar’s name gained traction for the caretaker prime minister’s post but the PPP objected to it.

However, it hasn’t yet been clarified if Dar is still in the race or not as Prime Minister Shehbaz has neither rejected nor objected to his name.

Several leaders of the ruling coalition didn’t hesitate to say that Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s brother Nawaz Sharif would take the final decision about the caretaker prime minister, adding that he might consult PPP President and ex-president Asif Zardari and PDM chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman on the subject, the paper reported.

Commenting on the ongoing deliberation on the caretaker prime minister’s name, a senior leader said the exercise was nothing more than a formality as the decision would be taken by the bigwigs of the coalition parties and conveyed to the prime minister.

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