The government has offered “everything under the sun” to the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid in exchange for them joining the ruling coalition led by the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP).
“Name what you want and you will get it,” the PML-Q is reported to been told in a high-level meeting that took place at the Presidency late Thursday night, in a bid to shore up the government’s alliance ahead of the parliamentary vote on the budget for fiscal year 2012.
On offer were reportedly five ministries and seven ministries of state for the PML-Q in the federal cabinet, including cabinet slots for PML-Q leader Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi, Faisal Saleh Hayat among others. The president is also rumoured to have accepted a demand to stop all ‘politically motivated’ investigations against the PML-Qs leaders in Sindh and Balochistan. There was, however, no official confirmation of these offers.
What is known, though, is that the two sides have been struggling with a massive trust deficit. PML-Q leader Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain and his cousin Pervaiz Elahi asked for guarantees from the PPP that they will not simply be dumped after the 2012 budget, repeatedly saying in public and private that they are looking for a long-term alliance.
“It is more a matter of the credibility of the government. Any alliance without solid guarantees may not last long,” a close aide of Chaudhrys and top PML-Q leader told The Express Tribune.
Following Thursday night’s meeting, both parties have agreed in principle to an alliance and will now consult within their own ranks about what kind of deal they are willing to live with and what they can deliver to the other side. The PML-Q is keen to include the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F) as insurance against the prospects of being ousted from the coalition when the PPP finds itself on more stable ground.
Both sides, however, need each other. The PPP is desperately seeking a more reliable – and less economically populist – coalition partner than the MQM, as it seeks to pass what is likely to be an unpopular federal budget in order to comply with the IMF’s requirements. The PML-Q, for its part, faces annihilation in the Senate in the 2012 elections and exile into political purgatory without the PPP’s support.
Yet, hesitation remains. At a meeting of PML-Q leaders earlier in the day, there was heated debate over whether or not to join the ruling coalition.
Ghouse Buksh Mehar was of the opinion that the PML-Q has no choice but to join the coalition in order to strengthen its hand for the 2013 elections. Nilofar Bakhtiar also favoured joining the government but suggested that it would be a meaningless alliance unless the party was able to secure prominent cabinet slots for some of its members.
Marvi Memon, however, was opposed to idea of allying with the PPP, saying that it would be raw self-interest and not serving the nation. Her idealism, however, was met with a snub by Elahi, who said she did not understand politics.
Others suggested a compromise. Tariq Azim proposed staying outside of the government but supporting the ruling party on a case by case basis. Faisal Saleh Hayat, formerly a member of the PPP himself, maintained a cautious silence on the matter, neither favouring nor opposing.
The meeting ended abruptly as the Chaudhrys left to meet with the president. The two leaders have been keeping details of the negotiations very close to the chest, not even asking Hayat, the party’s parliamentary leader, or Mushahid Hussain, the PML-Q secretary general, to accompany them in their meeting with Zardari.
Ambition and insecurity
The PML-Q is desperate to secure its own political future, which was always murky after the party’s main benefactor, former president Pervez Musharraf was forced out of office in August 2008.
The party wants some assurances from the PPP for support in the Senate elections of 2012 in addition to a concrete allocation of seats in 2013 to ensure significant representation for the party in the National Assembly. Crucially, however, the PML-Q wants support in the Punjab Assembly, though they have not specified exactly what they are looking for at the provincial level.
The PML-Q is also asking for a favourable delimitation of constituencies, scheduled to take place after the completion of the 2011 census. This practise is referred to in the United States as gerrymandering.
Agreement at provincial level
Leaders of the PML-Q, particularly in the Punjab Assembly, have agreed to the idea of a coalition with the PPP, viewing it as a tool the party can use to lure back the ‘like-minded’ faction that has split and informally joined the PML-N.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 29th, 2011.