ISLAMABAD: In a major blow to the efforts launched to evolve consensus between the treasury and opposition benches on electoral reforms to ensure transparency in the upcoming elections in Gilgit-Baltistan (GB), National Assembly (NA) Speaker Asad Qaisar Sunday night cancelled a scheduled consultative meeting to be held on Monday afternoon after Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazal (JUI-F) and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) decided to boycott the meeting.
An informed source told Pakistan Today that the speaker decided to call off the meeting after PML-N President Shahbaz Sharif and JUI-F leader Asad Mahmood, the son of Maulana Fazlur Rehman, refused to attend the meeting of the parliamentary leaders.
When contacted, a spokesman of the lower house confirmed to Pakistan Today that the scheduled meeting of the parliamentary leaders had been cancelled due to unavoidable engagements. When asked to elaborate, the spokesman did not comment any further.
According to a handout issued by the National Assembly Secretariat on Thursday, prominent among those invited are PML-N President Shahbaz Sharif, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Balochistan National Party-Mengal (BNP-M) chief Sardar Akhtar Mengal, Asad Mehmood of the JUI-F, Chaudhry Tariq Bashir Cheema of Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q), Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan’s (MQM-P) Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui and Railways Minister Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed.
Meanwhile, the JUI-F also withdrew from attending the meeting.
Sources among the opposition group say that the PML-N and JUI-F had decided to boycott the meeting over what they called the recent national events and also the ‘partisan role’ played by the NA speaker in recent legislation.
Turning down the invitation, Shehbaz said GB is a sensitive and national issue and is connected with the Kashmir cause. He demanded that the federal government should not obstruct the process of transparent and free elections in the region.
“The government should not sacrifice this issue for its politics. Federal government should not become a hurdle in transparent elections in Gilgit-Baltistan region,” he said, adding that his party has decided not to extend cooperation to the government due to its “dictatorial behaviour”.
“Speaker was not empowered to intervene in electoral affairs of Gilgit-Baltistan,” the opposition leader said, adding, “The government refused every offer of cooperation by the opposition and used it for its political motives.”
Shehbaz further said that he would abide by the resolutions and decisions passed at the All Parties Conference (APC), adding that considering the ‘government’s attitude’, his party has decided not to cooperate with the treasury benches in any way for the future polls. He said that the speaker has no authority to interfere in the electoral affairs of the region – a claim which has no logic.
PPP leader Dr Nafisa shah said that her party will not be part of the consultative meeting, adding that she could not understand why the speaker had called the meeting. She further said that her party wants free and fair elections in GB.
Per parliamentary traditions, the NA speaker has been playing intermediary role between the treasury and opposition benches to help the proceedings of the lower house’s session run smoothly. In this regard, former Speakers including Sardar Ayaz Sadiq, Dr Fehmida Mirza, Malik Meraj Khalid and Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani have set precedents. Even former Senate chairman Raza Rabbani had played pivotal role in getting the 18th Constitutional Amendment passed from both houses of the parliament through consensus.
Speaker Asad Qaisar had asked all the parliamentary leaders to propose amendments to relevant laws, rules and procedures for the transparency of elections in Pakistan and GB.
On Wednesday, President Dr Arif Alvi gave a go-ahead to holding of general elections for the GB Assembly scheduled to be held on November 15. He had approved a summary regarding the polls sent to him by Prime Minister Imran Khan. The legislative assembly of GB was dissolved after it completed its five-year tenure on 24 June.