Pakistani Prime Minister Scrambles To Forge New Ruling Coalition
Last updated (GMT/UTC): 03.01.2011
Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani faces the difficult task of restoring his government’s majority after a key coalition partner went into opposition.
The Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) announced its decision to leave the government on January 2, leaving Gilani scrambling to forge new alliances amid widespread concerns about the government’s economic policies and calls for him to face a parliamentary vote of confidence.
MQM Youth Affairs Minister Faisal Sabzwari told journalists in Karachi on January 3 that his party “withdrew from the cabinet on December 27 and today we have decided not to sit on the government benches but to sit with the opposition in the National Assembly as well as in the Senate.”
“However, even while sitting in the opposition, we will continue to support the good steps of the government,” Sabzwari added.
Gilani was meeting with opposition leaders on January 3 to come up with the handful of seats needed to restore his majority in the 342-seat National Assembly. Gilani, who co-chairs the ruling Pakistan People’s Party, expressed confidence that a solution would be found, telling reporters that “the government is not going to fall.”
Gilani’s immediate focus appeared to turn to Pakistan’s main opposition party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), which is headed by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and whose voice would have tremendous sway on any future vote of confidence in Gilani.
President Asif Ali Zardari expressed his full confidence in the prime minister as Gilani’s talks were continuing.
Zardari spokesman Farhatullah Babar said in a statement that Zardari stands behind Gilani against “any attempt to destabilize the coalition government.”
The Pakistani premier met on January 3 with Punjab Province minister Shahbaz Sharif, Nawaz Sharif’s younger brother, but reports indicated that the PML-N was taking a wait-and-see approach on the crisis.
Gilani also met with Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, who heads the Pakistan Muslim League Qaid-i-Azam (PML-Q).
The MQM’s departure from the ruling coalition comes just weeks after religious party Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Fazl (JUIF) vacated its seven seats after Gilani dismissed one of its ministers. JUIF has called on Gilani and his cabinet to resign in the wake of the MQM’s departure.
The MQM’s decision to take its 25 seats to the opposition came after the party’s leaders held talks in Karachi on January 2 with President Asif Ali Zardari, Gilani’s fellow Pakistan People’s Party co-chairman. In announcing its decision, the MQM cited recent fuel-price hikes and the government’s lack of seriousness in addressing its concerns as reasons for leaving the coalition.
Gilani’s government led Pakistan through a tumultuous 2010 in which more than 20 million citizens were affected by floods, and in which the government’s commitment to countering the Taliban was questioned by its Western allies.
Gilani, along with President Zardari and other top officials, was expected to meet in Islamabad later this week with members of Afghanistan’s High Peace Council. The council arrives in Islamabad on January 4, and is expected to discuss its efforts to initiate talks with the Taliban.