ISLAMABAD: President Asif Ali Zardari’s ruling coalition appears to be in trouble: on the day cabinet members from his biggest ally – the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid – submitted their resignations to their party chief, reports emerged of secret talks between leaders of the PML-Q and the party of the president’s foremost political rival, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz.
PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif and PML-Q president Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain have begun talks through their business associates at Sharif’s estate in the Lahore suburb of Raiwind to narrow their personal and political differences, sources privy to the developments told The Express Tribune.
PML-N spokesperson Senator Mushahidullah Khan confirmed that the PML-Q and the PML-N were holding negotiations but refused to confirm or deny the meetings in Raiwind. PML-Q spokesperson Kamil Ali Agha did not appear to be aware of any negotiations between the two parties.
Meanwhile, cabinet members belonging to the PML-Q submitted their resignations to Chaudhry Shujaat (though not to the prime minister, as is constitutionally required), in what appears to be a bid to build up pressure on President Zardari to meet their demands. The president is reported to have contacted Shujaat soon after the resignations were made public to discuss his coalition partner’s grievances.
The alliance between the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party and the PML-Q had been announced earlier in the year and had initially been viewed as an anti-PML-N coalition, prompting Sharif to begin frantically planning a way to prevent his party’s political encirclement.
Sharif had been rumoured to have been preparing for a big push to oust the government of Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani around late September or early October. It appears that the PML-N chief has advanced quite far in his attempts to call for any early election before the scheduled March 2012 Senate elections.
PML-Q members have been unhappy with their treatment in the government. “None of the commitments made when we joined the government have been fulfilled by the PPP,” said Housing Minister Faisal Saleh Hayat, a senior PML-Q leader.
The PML-Q’s demands included seat adjustment agreements for the 2013 elections, access to federal funds for their constituencies and quotas in federal jobs, none of which appear to have been met.
Hayat said that matters between the PML-Q and the PPP had not yet reached ‘the point of no return’, but the party seemed to be already exploring alternatives to a return to the ruling coalition. Agha, the PML-Q spokesperson, said that the party hoped to resolve its differences with President Zardari.
The president met late on Tuesday night with Prime Minister Gilani to discuss the situation while he is expected to hold what PML-Q members term a ‘make or break’ meeting with their party’s leadership in a day or two, sources said.
The president already seems to be building back-up options, however. A delegation of senior leaders from the Muttahida Qaumi Movement – an erstwhile ally of the PPP – is already in Islamabad and expected to meet Zardari on Wednesday (today) to discuss what many assume would be an agreement to rejoin the ruling coalition.
The PML-N, meanwhile, appears to have other ideas. The resignation by the PML-Q from the cabinet is the first step in Sharif’s plan to oust the government, sources said. The second phase will utilise the protests against power outages to channel popular outrage to compel the Gilani administration to resign.
Senior leaders from the PML-N and the PML-Q appear to have decided to contest the next general election, scheduled for May 2013, on the PML-N ticket, sources said. PML-N insiders, however, emphasised that while they were preparing for a change, they would not support any ‘extra-constitutional’ steps, a reference to possible intervention by the military.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 5th, 2011.