Swollen to the brim, cabinet is a reminder of a promise not kept

Published: March 31, 2019
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Prime Minister Imran Khan. PHOTO: FILES

Prime Minister Imran Khan. PHOTO: FILES

ISLAMABAD: One of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s pre-election promises was to cut the size of the federal cabinet. But barely half-a-year into his tenure as the premier, the number of cabinet members has swelled to at least 39 ministers and minster-equivalent members.

It is already almost double the size of the 21-member cabinet announced on August 20, 2018, and will likely grow even more, as Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s (PTI) allies continue demanding more ministries from the government.

The question is, will the government bow to its allies’ demands?

Ever since the Gen Zia era, small cabinets have been a common refrain among incoming prime ministers, and ballooning cabinets have been typical of outgoing ones, and even mid-term ones. Former PM Yousaf Raza Gillani had a 66-member cabinet at one point.

But few actually grew out of the initial ‘slim look’ so quickly.

Political experts say that cabinets of coalition governments are always larger because governments assign ministries to all political parties to ensure smooth governance.

The government has not yet rejected the news doing rounds pertaining to the extension of the federal cabinet. Presently, there are 25 federal ministers in the cabinet, along with five ministers of state and four advisers who enjoy the status of federal ministers.

Four of the 10 special assistants, who are part of the cabinet, also enjoy the status of ministers of state. The chairman of the National Assembly’s Special Committee on Kashmir also enjoys the status of a federal minister. Political expediency also dominates the cabinet due to the lack of a clear majority for the ruling party in the National Assembly.

The number of alliance ministers in the federal cabinet stands at six – two from the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and one minister each from the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q), the Balochistan Awami Party (BAP), the Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA), and the Awami Muslim League (AML) are part of the cabinet.

Despite MQM getting two minsters against seven National Assembly seats, BAP getting one minster against five NA seats, PML-Q getting one minister against five NA seats, and GDA getting one minister against three NA seats, the alliance parties seem to still want more.

PML-Q leaders Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain and Chaudhry Pervez Elahi in a recent meeting with the prime minister demanded one more ministry. The Chaudhry brothers want Elahi’s son Moonis appointed a federal minister.

According to sources at the PM House, Khan did not agree to the demand for another ministry but counteroffered to make Shujaat’s son, Chaudhry Salik Hussain, the chairman of a National Assembly standing committee. The brothers, however, rejected the offer and have stuck to their guns.

Meanwhile, there remains an increasing chance of a major reshuffle in the cabinet. Whispers suggest that a few important ministers will be reassigned or removed on the basis of performance reports demanded by the prime minister. It is highly likely that any vacancies created could be used to mollify the demands of coalition allies if further cabinet expansion is taken off the table.

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