Yousaf Raza Gilani said on Friday that he would remain prime minister as long as he enjoyed the support of parliament and was supported by his coalition partners.
The comment is particularly poignant given the occasion on which the premier made it: Following a meeting with the leaders of a reportedly disgruntled coalition partner Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q), which has of late been airing discontent against the government.
The prime minister travelled to Lahore on Friday for a meeting with PML-Q leaders Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain and Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi. The meeting, according to sources privy to the talks, settled all outstanding issues – the most pressing of which dealt with the release of funds for PML-Q parliamentarians.
Held at the residence of Chaudhry Shujaat, the meeting had been pending for a while. According to the sources, the prime minister had been avoiding the meeting – a delay that had irked the two Chaudhrys.
Elahi had been making public threats to leave the coalition on the premise of the acute power crisis that has crippled Punjab over the last few weeks. His threat was echoed by senior PML-Q leader Senator Kamil Ali Agha.
However, that was the public stance.
Sources said that Shujaat had protested a number of times to President of Pakistan Asif Ali Zardari regarding the disbursement of funds – a commitment given when the PML-Q joined the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP)-led coalition government in the centre. In the last meeting between President Zardari and Shujaat a couple of weeks ago, it had been decided that the prime minister would meet Shujaat to resolve the issue.
At the time of joining the coalition, PML-Q had, aside from ministries, been promised Rs17 billion in development funds in financial year 2011-12, according to sources. However, this commitment was not honoured. Aside from development, the funds are critical for the PML-Q given that the party is falling apart at the seams, with many defectors and many others threatening to jump ship.
The holdup is particularly damaging for parliamentarians looking to get reelected in the run-up to the next polls that could very well be this year.
According to details, out of Rs17 billion, PML-Q’s 50-plus MNAs in the National Assembly each has to get Rs100 million while each MPA has to get Rs50 million.
The sources said that Gilani in his meeting with Shujaat informed the Chaudhrys that the money would be released in June 2012.
The issue of Chief Election Commissioner was also discussed. According to sources, the Chaudhrys expressed their wish to finalise the name of Justice (retd) Sardar Raza Khan. The sources said that this issue has also been left for the return of President Zardari.
PM’s media talk
Prime Minister Gilani said that self-sufficiency in the energy sector will be ensured.
“The government has constituted an Emergency Cell and Special Cabinet Committee (SCC) to deal with the energy crisis, adding that the SCC will hold its meetings daily while the minister for Information and Broadcasting is to apprise the public of the shortfall on a daily basis”, he said while talking to reporters after the meeting with PML-Q leaders.
To a query, Gilani said the pre- and post-18th amendment scenario did not stop provincial governments from creating their own energy, stressing that the provinces should also take responsibility for overcoming the energy shortfall.
On the upcoming budget, Prime Minister Gilani said 100,000 new jobs will be created for the youth. Besides no new taxes and providing relief to the agriculture sector, he said the less-privileged urban population will also be provided financial assistance through the Benazir Income Support Programme.
He said he was least bothered by the criticism of his detractors, stressing that this would be the first-ever elected government to present a budget for a fifth straight time.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 19th, 2012.