File picture shows ex-PM Nawaz Sharif, and his brother, PM Shehbaz Sharif in Lahore on September 14, 2018 at the funeral of Nawaz's wife Kulsoom Nawaz. Image Credit: AP

Islamabad: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif left for London on Wednesday to attend an “emergency meeting” called by Nawaz Sharif, the head of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the elder brother of the current premier.

Several federal ministers including Planning Minister Ahsan Iqbal, Defense Minister Khawaja Asif, Finance Minister Miftah Ismail, Railways Minister Khawaja Saad Rafique, Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb, Power Minister Khurram Dastgir will also be attending the meeting in London.

The meeting has been called by the three-time prime minister Nawaz Sharif who was barred by the Supreme Court in 2017 from holding public office over corruption charges. The government recently issued him a new passport and his name has also been removed from the travel ban list.

The visit sparked criticism on social media as it comes at a time when the country is facing an economic and constitutional crisis. Opponent party leader and former prime minister Imran Khan criticized the trip and said in a public meeting that the entire cabinet was going to meet a “convicted person on taxpayers’ money.”

Responding to the allegations, Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb said that “Prime Minister Shehbaz and PML-N members are going on a private visit to London to meet with Nawaz Sharif”, adding that the purpose of the visit was to hold consultations on key issues facing the country. “This is not a big deal but people who have nothing to show for their performance are blowing it out of proportion,” she said, referring to the comments by Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party.

London meeting discussion

Some of the key issues to be discussed at PML-N’s London meeting include decisions about power-sharing among the ruling coalition, the next general elections and strategy to counter PTI, the constitutional crisis in Punjab as well as tackling the price hike, approach to the prices of petroleum products ahead of talks with International Monetary Fund (IMF) expected in Doha on May 18, according to local media.

On Wednesday, the Pakistani currency hit a new all-time low as the dollar reached Rs190 in the interbank market. The rupee is losing its value because of high imports, dwindling foreign exchange reserves, and the lack of clarity on the $6 billion IMF program. Pakistan’s inflation rose to a two-year high of 13.37 per cent in April compared to the same month last year, according to the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS).

Elections may be held in Pakistan this year

Pakistan’s Defence Minister Khawaja Asif has said that the possibility of holding general elections later this year cannot be ruled out. “We may have to hold elections before the appointment of the army chief, before November,” Asif said in an interview with BBC Urdu.

Meanwhile, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Asif Ali Zardari said that elections would be held after the current coalition government implements electoral reforms and amends the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) laws. Zardari’s PPP is the second-largest party in the current coalition government of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif appointed on April 11.

The timing of the next general elections is a hot topic in Pakistan since the new government took office on April 11 after the Imran Khan administration was ousted through a vote of no-confidence. PTI chairman Imran Khan has vowed to hold protests until fresh elections are announced.