PPP bats to prepone Pak general elections

Islamabad: The ruling Pakistan People`s Party has decided to hold the general election and the polls to the Senate ahead of schedule against the backdrop of rampant speculation that the government may not be able to complete its tenure, according to media reports today.

A meeting of the top leadership of the PPP chaired by President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani on Thursday decided to hold elections to the Senate or upper house of parliament in mid-February instead of March 11 as scheduled, the Dawn newspaper quoted an unnamed PPP leader as saying.

The Pakistan Today daily quoted its sources as saying that the PPP had decided to hold the general election on October 16 this year, instead of 2013, under an interim government.

Religious Affairs Minister Khursheed Shah was quoted by TV news channels as saying that the next general election could be held any time after the presentation of the budget in June. Shah said the PPP was ready for the general election and voters` lists too were ready.

Media reports said the PPP had decided to hold the polls ahead of schedule as the government is facing innumerable political and legal challenges. There is also speculation that the PPP-led coalition may be "wrapped up or face a big blow" before the Senate election, the reports said.

"Under the Constitution, we can hold Senate elections any time within one month before March 11," Nayyar Bokhari, Leader of the House in the Senate, told the media. .

The Senate polls are held every three years after 50 per cent of its members retire. The PPP planned to hold an early general election after presenting a "poor-friendly budget" in June, Pakistan Today reported.

It quoted Prime Minister Gilani as telling on Thursday`s meeting that the PPP`s coalition partners too had suggested the holding of early polls under a caretaker setup. The premier would be asked to propose three names to the Leader of the Opposition for the post of caretaker prime minister. The President supported Gilani`s idea of a caretaker government, the report said.

The government and President Zardari, who is the head of the PPP, have been facing pressure from the Supreme Court and the powerful military over an alleged memo that had sought US help to stave off a coup in Pakistan after the killing of Osama bin Laden in May.

The apex court has formed a commission to investigate the memo scandal and army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani has contended that the memo exists and action should be taken against those involved in drafting and delivering it. At the same time, the apex court has renewed pressure on the government to reopen cases of alleged money laundering against Zardari in Switzerland by January 10. .

The cases were earlier closed under a graft amnesty that was struck down by the court. During Thursday`s meeting, the PPP`s top leadership reiterated its earlier decision of not asking Swiss authorities to reopen the cases against Zardari.

The leaders contended that the President enjoyed immunity from prosecution under the Constitution. The PPP also decided that Zardari would not submit a statement to the commission formed by the Supreme Court to investigate the memo scandal.

Observers believe these decisions could set off a fresh confrontation between the government and the judiciary. The PPP`s top leadership also decided on Thursday to mobilise people and hold rallies and public meetings across the country that will be addressed by senior party leaders, including the Prime Minister.

Observers said this was a clear indication that the PPP was beginning its preparations for the next general election. Several opposition parties, including the PML-N and the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, have been demanding that the PPP-led government should resign and hold early elections.