Despite a dismal showing in the recent by-elections, the PML-N leadership appeared to be on the offensive rather than being in an introspective mood as it blamed everything from inflation to Imran Khan for its poor electoral showing.
However, members of the ruling Pakistan Democratic Movement coalition, in a defiant statement on Monday, roundly rejected PTI chief Imran Khan’s call for early elections, saying that both decisions — regarding the timing of the next polls and the appointment of a new chief of army staff — will be taken by the government and no one else.
When asked by reporters on Monday to comment on the outcome of the by-elections, PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif maintained his silence. Maryam Nawaz, however, said: “We’ll sit down and explain everything, eventually.”
Both were seen leaving Hussain Nawaz’s office in Stanhope House, where they have held several meetings over the past week and even spoken candidly about past tribulations.
The silence of the Sharifs on the electoral blow dealt to PML-N comes days after the Sharif patriarch was quoted by a source saying in a meeting that the party had lost political capital.
This meeting took place a day before Ishaq Dar returned to Pakistan to assume charge as finance minister, and the source said the PML-N leaders felt Dar could regain the lost political capital.
In a press conference on Monday, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah blamed the price hike and increased power tariffs for PML-N’s defeat in the Oct 16 by-elections, but said that harsh decisions had to be taken to avert the threat of default that loomed over the country.
He claimed that high electricity bills had netted PTI 10,000 to 12,000 more votes in each constituency.
Explaining the reasons behind the unpopular measures that cost the PDM government dearly in the by-polls, he held out an assurance that the price hike would be controlled and power tariffs brought down “in the days ahead”.
He also hoped things would be different in the general election, when the PTI would not enjoy the support of any provincial government.
He also announced that PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif would lead the party’s campaign in the general election, scheduled to take place next year.
Slamming Imran Khan for launching what he called “venomous and contemptuous” propaganda against the chief election commissioner and the ECP, the minister praised the commission for remaining neutral throughout the electoral process.
“If we accept the decisions of PTI voters, Imran Khan should also respect our voters,” he said, pointing out that while PTI secured 0.547 million votes in the by-polls, the PML-N bagged 0.475m.
Without mentioning the PTI’s planned long march on Islamabad, the interior minister made it clear that winning by-elections does not mean that Mr Khan had a licence to go against the law.
“If you take any unlawful step, I warn you that you will face the full force of law,” he said.
Although the PM Office had earlier only confirmed a meeting between PM Shehbaz Sharif and Maulana Fazlur Rehman of the JUI-F, the joint statement regarding PDM’s stance did not mention if it was released after a meeting of all coalition partners.
Referring to PTI’s proposed long march on the federal capital to force the government to hold early elections, the coalition statement said: “No group will be allowed to impose its decision on the basis of aggression and those who will take law in their hands will be dealt with an iron hand.”
The joint statement also condemned allegations leveled by Mr Khan against Asif Ali Zardari and Nawaz Sharif.
Imran Khan, in a press conference on Monday, said both Nawaz and Zardari were “corrupt” and “looters” and thus they have no right to appoint the new army chief.
The statement said that PTI’s targeting the army chief, the leadership and officials of key national institutions, the chief election commissioner and others was an exercise in blackmail and didn’t indicate a political disposition, rather a “conspiracy” that would never be allowed to succeed.
“It is obvious in the Constitution that appointment of army chief and other top positions is a sole prerogative of the prime minister. A man out of power is targeting state institutions under a pre-planned agenda,” the statement added.
The PDM statement further said: “The derogatory campaign against Pakistan Army martyrs, statements regarding mutiny in the army and actions which encourage such acts are tantamount to an enmity with the country and therefore, such acts will be dealt with accordingly.”
It also mentioned in the statement that the government’s present top priority was stability of economy and the rehabilitation of flood-hit people. “There can be no compromise on these actions.”
The joint statement said after the Oct 16 by-elections [on eight National Assembly and three Punjab Assembly seats], the total number of seats of the ruling coalition in the National Assembly has increased from 174 to 176.