ISLAMABAD/KARACHI: In less than one day, President Asif Ali Zardari has gone from looking politically vulnerable to once again being at the helm of a large coalition. Hours after the Pakistan Muslim League Quaid announced that it would not be leaving the ruling coalition, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement announced that it would rejoin the treasury benches.
Events moved fast on Wednesday in what appeared to be a competition between the MQM and the PML-Q to see who could get into the president’s good books again first, in what appears to be a success of the Zardari’s strategy of using the support of one party to hedge against the loss of support from the other.
The PML-Q went first, releasing a statement to the press that the party would not be leaving the coalition after all.
“The alliance with the Pakistan Peoples Party will remain intact,” PML-Q chief Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain was quoted in a press release as having said. “We will contest next election together with PPP.”
Most analysts had viewed the party’s move as largely one of political posturing, since the PML-Q cabinet members had submitted their resignations to Chaudhry Shujaat, and not Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, as is constitutionally required.
The MQM followed within hours, with Sindh Governor Ishratul Ebad and Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah holding a joint press conference in Karachi close to midnight, saying that the MQM had decided to rejoin the ruling coalition in both Karachi and Islamabad ‘in the national interest’.
“We looked at the prevailing national and international situation and decided to rejoin government to work with government to redress all challenges faced by government in order to provide relief to the people,” said Governor Ebad. “Let us forget the past and look ahead.”
The MQM does not appear, at least on the surface, to have struck a hard bargain for rejoining the treasury benches.
“We have not demanded any additional ministries. Our ministers will continue their previous jobs in the federal and provincial governments,” said Governor Ebad. The resignations of the MQM ministers had not been accepted by either the chief minister or Prime Minister Gilani, allowing them to return almost at a moment’s notice.
At the press conference, both leaders credited President Zardari and MQM chief Altaf Hussain for their role in allowing the rapprochement to take place. The MQM has rejoined the coalition after having left it five times before.
“MQM not only supported us inside the assembly, but they helped government outside as well,” said the Sindh chief minister. “We have passed two and a half year and will support each other in rest of the time.”
The chief minister even went so far as to say that he did not believe that MQM was involved in violence across the nation’s largest city. “You cannot blame MQM being involved in bloodshed in country, we have investigated it. The allegations are baseless.”
The MQM appeared keen to present a united front in its decision, unlike the PML-Q, several members of which were reported to be grumbling about the decision by their party’s leadership, though none were willing to speak on the record about the matter.
Several PML-Q leaders even suspected their own party chief’s claim of having met the president. There were conflicting reports all day about whether President Zardari only spoke to Chaudhry Shujaat by telephone or whether the PML-Q chief only met the president’s aides.
The president’s spokesperson Farhatullah Babar confirmed that a meeting between Chaudhry Shujaat and Zardari took place, though there was no official statement released by the presidency, an anomaly from the norm.
Some political analysts believe that the reconciliation between the PPP and the MQM forced the PML-Q leadership to make a hasty decision. PML-Q insiders said Chaudhry Shujaat and his cousin Chaudhry Pervez Elahi had assured the party’s ministers that they would hold a meeting and brief them once they settle matters with President Zardari.
“We were waiting for this meeting. We were told that that Chaudhrys have left directly for Lahore and did not come back to their residence. Instead they issued a press statement announcing unconditional support for the PPP,” said one PML-Q minister requesting not to be named.
Many PML-Q leaders had been unhappy with their position in the ruling coalition, with many expressing their impression that the PPP had not lived up to its promises. The statement issued by the PML-Q media cell said that President Zardari has assured the party leadership that all their grievances would be addressed.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 6th, 2011.