ISLAMABAD: The recent ‘rightsizing’ of the federal cabinet has led to bickering in the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), prompting its top leadership to take some damage control measures.
Those left out in the new 22-strong cabinet, or those who are not happy with their new portfolios are unable to resist the urge to express their resentment – some openly, others in hushed tones.
President Zardari and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani met on Sunday to discuss the emerging situation.
The party leadership has devised a carrot-and-stick approach to deal with its disgruntled lawmakers, sources told The Express Tribune.
“The party leadership is trying to bring round those who are not happy with their new assignments, but it will give a strong shut-up call to those who violate the party discipline,” one source said.
Former foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi – who has been dropped from the cabinet “over his divergent opinion on the Raymond Davis issue” – has annoyed the party leadership.
Qureshi has publically expressed his differences with the party leadership on the Davis issue, inviting scathing criticism from colleagues in the party. Information Minister Firdous Ashaq Awan, Defence Minister Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar and Law Minister Babar Awan took the lead on Sunday.
“We cannot tolerate anybody violating the party discipline… Everyone cannot be given the ministry of his/her choice…. There will be no end to this, if the president gives in to such pressure,” a presidential aide said.
Qureshi told a reception at the ministry of foreign affairs on Saturday that he had told the prime minister that he would not accept any portfolio other than the foreign affairs.
President Zardari, who had had meetings with the dropout ministers in the last couple of days, sent Awan to Lala Musa to console Qamar Zaman Kaira, the former information minister, who has been left out in the new cabinet.
Simultaneously, the party leadership has been trying to convince Syed Naveed Qamar, Minister for Privatisation, to take charge of his new assignment.
Qamar, who was in charge of the lucrative ministry of petroleum and natural resources in the previous cabinet, is not happy with his new portfolio. And he is said to have conveyed his annoyance to the party leadership.
Sources said that the party leadership has assured Qamar that he would be given back his former portfolio. At present, Prime Minister Gilani himself has the additional charge of petroleum ministry.
Qureshi and Kaira did not join the cabinet in protest, sources said. And Railways Minister Bashir Ahmed Bilour supported the view. He is reported to have said that at the swearing-in ceremony, the chair and oath of Qureshi was removed at the eleventh hour when he did not turn up.
Sources said that Qureshi was offered the ministry of water and power, which was earlier held by Raja Pervaiz Ashraf. But he turned down the offer and insisted on retaining his previous portfolio.
Kaira, on the other hand, protested against his party’s choice for his successor in the ministry of information and broadcasting. Kaira had demanded that some senior party lawmaker, and not Firdaus Ashaq Awan, be assigned the portfolio.
Sources said a strong lobby in the media was supporting Firdous Ashiq Awan. “The PPP wanted to assign this ministry to a woman legislator to portray a soft image of the country,” one source told The Express Tribune.
Similarly, some PPP lawmakers who were confident about their chances of getting berths in the new cabinet are also feeling disillusioned now. And they are also voicing reservations about the new choice of ministers.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 14th, 2011.
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