THE third round of dialogue between the coalition government and the opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) ended on Tuesday night with progress on the issue of same day polls but without an agreement on a date for the general election. Based on the progress so far achieved, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar expressed optimism about resolution of the differences in coming days saying they are going back to the leadership and have to consult with coalition partners but PTI’s Shah Mahmood Qureshi apparently announced termination of the process of dialogue by stating that the party would go back to the Supreme Court and present report to the three-member bench.
No agreement has been signed but understanding reached on some key issues is an important development which confirms, once again, that differences can be sorted out through discussion and dialogue and with the spirit of give and take. This is evident from the remarks made by the Finance Minister after the last round who said all issues were discussed in a positive manner and the overall result was positive. The two sides reached an understanding that all the elections should be held on the same day under a caretaker set-up. This is important as neutral observers have been warning that in case of advance elections in Punjab and KP and formation of political governments there would make election results for the National Assembly controversial. The purpose of elections on the same day under caretaker governments is that no questions be raised on fairness and transparency of the exercise. A deep analysis of the process of dialogue and the position adopted by the two sides would show that the same day polling was not a problem for either side and instead it is their preferred choice because of complications that the country and the system could encounter in case of separate elections. The real issue is the date for the same day polls and apparently both sides continue sticking to their old positions on the matter. PTI, which employed all tactics including long marches, rallies, protests and even premature dissolution of the two assemblies to get instant elections, wants them to be held before September while the coalition government insists on October/November. The announcement of the PTI to revert back to the SC means it wants the top court to fix a date for general election citing understanding on the same day polls but the court intervention could have serious implications. It is anybody’s guess to gauge reaction of the PDM/coalition government to any such directive as it is unlikely they would accept general election before September when they are not ready to hold elections for Punjab and KP assemblies before October.