PM Shehbaz to spend busy day meeting allies, opposition leader over caretaker set-up
• Announces auction of Toshakhana gifts, proceeds to be spent on orphan children

ISLAMABAD: With the National Assembly all set to be dissolved at the stroke of midnight tonight (Wednesday), Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif is expected to spend a busy day holding consultations with allies and opposition leaders regarding the formation of an ‘empowered’ caretaker set-up.

Speaking at a ceremony at General Headquarters in Rawalpindi on Tuesday, PM Shehbaz said: “On the completion of the incumbent government’s term, I would send a summary to the President of Pakistan for dissolution of the National Assembly by Wednesday (today).

The premier confirmed that he would write to President Dr Arif Alvi today to bring an end to the incumbent government’s tenure, three days before the end of its term.

“Tomorrow [Wednesday] my government completes its term and [after] meeting constitutional norms, we will hand over the reins to the interim set-up,” the premier said.

In a separate meeting with media bodies, the premier said after the dissolution of the assembly, the chief election commissioner was mandated to decide the future course of action regarding the elections. However, he added, all the parties were unanimous in their view that elections should be held as soon as possible.

Caretaker set-up

It is expected that the prime minister will hold a meeting with the Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Raja Riaz to fulfil his constitutional obligation i.e. consultations regarding the appointment of an interim premier.

In addition to this, a final meeting of the federal cabinet would also be held, where the premier will give a round-up of his government’s performance since April last year.

He is also expected to take cabinet members into confidence over the composition of the caretaker government, which is likely to have representation from all allied parties. A source privy to developments told Dawn that there was a possibility that parties in the ruling coalition may get the same portfolios in the interim set-up that they are currently holding.

In his speech at GHQ, PM Shehbaz said: “Before leaving the government, we are passing on a comprehensive system of reforms and progress to our successors through the Special Investment Facilitation Council (SIFC). The system was jointly made by the federal and provincial government ad institutions,” he said.

He said if his party was given a chance to return to power in the upcoming general elections, he would prove his commitment to rid the country of poverty and loans to make it self-sufficient.

Opp finalises three names

Meanwhile, Leader of the Opposition Raja Riaz told reporters on Tuesday that he hoped his meeting with the PM would take place today (Wednesday) where these matters would be discussed. He was of the view that consultations would take place at “the right time”.

According to the opposition leader, he had completed the consultation process with his allies and three names for the interim prime minister were almost finalised.

Later, Mr Riaz told Aaj News that the names for the caretaker PM were finalised after he held three meetings with lawmakers from the opposition. “They do not include any politicians, but an economist has been shortlisted,” he revealed.

The opposition leader said he could even consider a politician for the interim PM slot if suggested by the government. Some political observers believed that Raja Riaz is a “friendly opposition leader” so he will not oppose the name chosen by PM Shehbaz for the slot of caretaker prime minister.

Regarding potential delays in elections, Mr Riaz said polls should ideally be held within three months but the approval of the latest census has complicated the matters. “I think the election will be delayed by six months,” he said.

It may be noted that Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah has already said that general elections could be delayed due to the delimitations of constituencies after the notification of the 2023 census. He expected polls could be delayed till March next year.

Auction of Toshakhana gifts

Separately, PM Shehbaz announced the auction of expensive Toshakhana gifts and said that the proceeds from their sales would be spent on welfare initiatives, the state-run APP reported.

“I announce to auction all of the gifts worth millions of rupees…receipts will go…[to] the institutions for the orphan children whether they are welfare organisations, educational institutions or medical facilities”.

“We will hand them over under a mechanism to support the orphans who are unable to face the challenges of life,” the prime minister said talking to a delegation of the Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors, All Pakistan Newspapers Society, and Pakistan Broadcasters Association.

In his meeting with the media bodies, the prime minister said his government had tried its utmost to rectify the relations with friendly countries and had been able to control the damage to a great extent which also led to the signing of the agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

He said with the IMF agreement, the country was saved from default. “Otherwise the situation could have been extremely difficult, with long queues at [petrol] filling stations…even the friendly countries had linked their support with the IMF deal.”

PM Shehbaz said the friendly countries, including Saudi Arabia, were willing to invest in Pakistan and the Special Investment Facilitation Council would prove to be a game-changer in that regard.

APNS thanks PM

In a statement issued after the event, APNS Secretary General Sarmad Ali said that the PM had agreed to the demand of the newspaper industry and announced a 35 per cent increase in government advertisement rates.

He said that the last revision of rates was announced in February 2017 and it was agreed at the time that the rates would be revised on a yearly basis, but despite consistent demands, there was no increase.

“The APNS expresses its profound gratitude… for accepting the long outstanding demand of APNS for increase in the government advertisement rates for newspapers and periodicals,” the statement said.

Published in Dawn, August 9th, 2023

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