The culmination of intense negotiations between the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and its largest ally, the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q), resulted in the country getting a deputy prime minister: PML-Q leader Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi.
A notification was issued late on Monday declaring that Elahi, who holds the portfolios of defence production and industries’ minister in Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf’s cabinet, would be the country’s “deputy prime minister.” However, the ambit of the post remains undefined. In fact, the notification stressed that he would have no powers of the prime minister “whatsoever.”
The post, for which there is no constitutional provision, had been a longstanding demand of the PML-Q. The party had joined the PPP-led coalition in 2011 based on this promise. But former prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani had resisted the move on the grounds that there was no legal basis for the position. After Gilani’s ouster last week, PML-Q leaders Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain and his cousin Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi, among other demands, also put forward the creation of the deputy prime minister’s office as a pre-condition for their party’s support for a new PPP nominee for prime ministership.
The cabinet division issued a notification that read: “The prime minister has been pleased to designate Ch. Pervaiz Elahi, Federal Minister for Defence Production & Industries as deputy prime minister with immediate effect and until further orders. This shall not confer upon him any powers of the prime minister in any manner whatsoever.”
The language of the notification indicates that, so far, the role of the deputy premier has not been defined and would be a cosmetic post. There has been a legal debate on powers of such an office – however, legal experts are of the view that there are precedents in other countries and the holder acts as prime minister in the premier’s absence. On the other hand, experts were divided on whether a notification would suffice for the creation of the post or if a constitutional amendment was needed.
In Gilani’s cabinet, Elahi was made a senior minister – another post long mired in questions. Though there is no description of the post, it has long been used for symbolic purposes. The late Begum Nusrat Bhutto had the status of senior minister in former prime minister Benazir Bhutto’s cabinet, while Chaudhry Nisar had this status in Nawaz Sharif’s cabinet.
An hour before the notification for the deputy prime minister, 15 PML-Q parliamentarians took oath as ministers and ministers of state. A separate notification was also issued notifying the appointment of six special assistants to the prime minister.
With induction of 15 members, the cabinet of Prime Minister Ashraf has already swelled to over 53 in a matter of days. Adding the six advisors appointed on Monday, and Rehman Malik already working as advisor on interior affairs, the size of cabinet has reached 60. The 18th Amendment had limited the cabinet size to a 11% of the total size of parliament. However this clause was not applicable on the current assemblies.
Eight members of the PML-Q were sworn in as federal ministers on Monday, which included, Sardar Bahadur Khan Sehar, Liaquat Abbas Bhatti, Sardar Talib Hussain Nakai, Sheikh Waqas Akram, Anwar Ali Cheema, Ghous Bukhsh Mehr, Jam Muhammad Yousaf and Chaudhry Wajahat Hussain. Seven PML-Q legislators took oath as state ministers (also known as junior ministers) including, Rana Asif Tauseef, Malik Nauman Ahmed Langrial, Sardar Shahjehan Yousaf, Senator Saeed Khan Mandokhel, Chaudhry Ghias Ahmed Mela, Akram Masih Gill and Khawaja Sheraz Mehmood.
Elahi had already taken oath as a federal minister on Friday.
Some important names from the PML-Q, including Makhdoom Faisal Saleh Hayat, Riaz Hussain Pirzada and Raza Hayat Hiraj, who were part of the Gilani cabinet, did not return.
Prime Minister Ashraf also appointed Ahmed Yar Hiraj, Syed Qasim Shah, Chaudhry Imtiaz Ranja, Shehnaz Wazir Ali, Hussain Muhammad Leghari, Muhammad Nasir Mengal as special assistants with the status of minister of state.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 26th, 2012.