Former president and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Co-Chairman Asif Ali Zardari ruled out on Wednesday the holding of general elections before the introduction of electoral reforms and necessary changes in the accountability laws by the incumbent coalition government.
Addressing a press conference at the Sindh Chief Minister House, Zardari said that the ruling coalition was capable enough to steer the country out of the present financial crisis, stressing that he had “some out-of-box solution” to improve the national economy.
لائیو: صدر آصف علی زرداری، وزیراعلی ہاؤس کراچی میں پریس کانفرنس کررہے ہیں۔ https://t.co/vrAUhZxFoq
— PPP (@MediaCellPPP) May 11, 2022
“A demand for general election is being made in the country but elections could not be held without introducing electoral reforms and making necessary changes in the NAB [National Accountability Bureau] laws,” Zardari told reporters.
“We have to introduce electoral reforms and reforms in the NAB laws before going to general elections,” he stressed. “But yes, parliament is supreme, and it has the authority to decide when to call an election,” he added. “Being a political and democratic party, we are not afraid of going to elections.”
When asked about Defence Minister Khawaja Asif’s statement about early elections, Zardari said that it could be his personal opinion. “I have discussed the matter with [Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) Quaid] Nawaz Sharif and we have agreed to call election after reforms are made,” he said.
When asked further about electoral reforms, particularly the grant of voting rights to overseas Pakistanis, the former president suggested that parliament could allocate reserved seats for the Pakistani expatriates.
“The overseas Pakistanis have no idea what the ground realities in the country are but we have to steer it [country] out of the quagmire in which the ‘selected has stuck it up,” he said. “Yes, parliament, with its collective wisdom could decide [and] reserve seats for overseas Pakistanis in the assemblies.”
According to Zardari, NAB laws were another issue that needed to be reformed before elections so that the country’s premier graft buster could not be used for the victimisation of political opponents in future.
“NAB has demoralised the bureaucracy, therefore, they have stopped performing their duties out of fear,” the PPP co-chairman said. “We have to restore the confidence of bureaucracy by introducing reforms in NAB laws,” he added.
Zardari said that the demand for early elections was being made by the former prime minister and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan but added that the question was that when Imran could not deliver during his around four-year tenure, how could he deliver now?
“We are capable enough to steer the country out of the present financial crisis. We had successfully managed economy after ousting [then military ruler] General [Pervez] Musharraf,” the PPP co-chairman said, while referring to the 2008-13 PPP government.
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“When we had taken over the government after Musharraf, the stock exchange was at 10,000 points but through our business-friendly policies it had risen to 26,000 points at the end of our tenure,” the former president added.
Zardari said that he had some out-of-box solution to improve the economy. For example, he said, “we can float 26% shares of the State Life Insurance [Corporation] in the market to generate funds till the restoration of IMF [International Monetary Fund] package,” he suggested.
“Similarly, the transmission lines could be privatised to improve and strengthen the national economy,” he added. However, when asked about increasing the prices of petroleum products, as suggested by the IMF, Zardari was not in favour any such proposition.
“The prices of petroleum products cannot be increased because their increase squarely affected the prices of other commodities. I have discussed this matter with Nawaz Sharif, and we have agreed not to increase the prices of petroleum,” he disclosed.
“In these days of price hike, when people could ill-afford to pay their electricity bills, we may give solar panels to the people at subsidised rates. “This scheme will save electricity for industrial purposes,” he said. “We have to control the price of electricity to control the cost of production,” he added.
Criticising the performance of Imran-led PTI government, he used the term “democratically-ousted government”, which he said, completely failed to “handle the economy and as a result nobody could sustain a family even at Rs50,000 per month income or salary.
“We have to think about them [people] – he [Imran] says he was not there to control the prices of tomato and potato but yes, we are here to ensure the provision of vegetables and such other commodities at reasonable rates. We have to find solutions and, of course, we will do,” he said.
Zardari, who played the lead role in the success of the no-confidence motion against Imran, said that the pervious “selected government” had completely failed and its further stay in power would have harmed the national interest. “It became the question of survival of 300 million people of Pakistan.”
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The former president explained that the population of the country was 300 million and not 200 million, as indicated in the previous census. “We 300 million people have to make Pakistan a peaceful, prosperous and educated nation,” he said.
He lashed out at the ‘selected’ leaders for targeting important institutions in public meetings and statements. He was equally critical of President Dr Arif Alvi, saying: “Alvi was a dentist [before being elected as president] and he did not know how to play politics, therefore, he is playing foul.”
He mentioned that previous prime ministers went gracefully when removed from office. “Our prime minister, [Yousuf Raza] Gilani was removed but we did not talk against the judiciary – I was put in jail for many years even then we didn’t utter a word,” he said.
“Instead of saluting to [Chief of Army Staff] Gen [Qamar Javed] Bajwa for declaring his institution as apolitical, he [Imran] has turned against him,” he said.
The former president said that he had not read the “letter” the former prime minister was quoting. “His [Imran] narrative is just a bubble and it will fizzle out itself,” he said. “The American government has its own issues … why would they hatch a conspiracy to oust a selected prime minister,” he said.
“Though [US President Joe] Biden is my friend, but if America had removed the regime in Pakistan, the Biden administration would have helped our new regime in strengthening our economy,” Zardari told reporters.
“Had the Americans changed regime in Pakistan, they would have helped our new government in getting the IMF package restored. This [conspiracy] is a baseless narrative of the ousted prime minister trying to sell in the market but it is bound to bounce shortly,” he said.
Issues of Sindh
Zardari was also asked about the recent suicide bombing at the Karachi University, killing some Chinese nationals. He replied that it was shocking that a “daughter” of this country took such an extreme step after being brainwashed. “We have to stop such extreme steps by educating them,” he said.
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“They [the Chinese] were teachers and teaching Chinese language at the Karachi University, which was a good service,” he said. “China is our brother country and we must help them reach the warm waters,” the former president added.
Zardari strongly supported the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) projects. “The development of Gwadar and the operationalisation of its port would open up new vistas of development and prosperity in the country in general, and in Balochsitan, in particular,” he said.
Zardari recalled that he had suggested to the PTI government on the floor of the National Assembly to sign a ‘charter of economy’ with the then opposition and other political forces but added that Imran could not understand the offer or foresee the situation.
Talking about water shortage in the province, the PPP leader said that crops were drying in the fields. However, he added that now when the glaciers had started melting, the water shortage would come to an end shortly.
He voiced hope that Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) would play its role in the resolution of national and provincial issues. “They want to work with political forces for resolution of all outstanding issues,” he said. “Their governor would be appointed shortly,” he said.
Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah, Information Minister Sharjeel Memon, Labour Minister Saeed Ghani, Local Government Minister Nasir Shah and Adviser to the chief minister on Law Murtaza Wahab were also present during the press conference.