Already confronted with a number of pressing issues, the Pakistan Peoples Party’s (PPP) government on Tuesday suffered a serious setback as coalition partner Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) pulled out from the federal alliance.
The JUI-F’s decision follows Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani’s orders to sack Senator Azam Swati, the wealthiest member of the JUI-F. Swati was embroiled in a public war of words with Religious Minister Hamid Kazmi, who is faced with allegations of corruption in Hajj arrangements. Kazmi was also sacked along with Swati.
However, the JUI-F took umbrage to Swati’s sacking. The party has seven seats in the National Assembly and over a dozen members in the Senate.
The announcement is being considered whimsical, but if JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman keeps his word, it could have serious consequences for the PPP. With support from the JUI-F, the PPP has a simple majority in the Senate and losing that support could weaken its position regarding the passage of legislation in the National Assembly. What adds to the government’s worries is that the Reformed General Sales Tax (RGST) bill is yet to be approved, which the government must ensure in order to convince the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to send its next tranche.
Although the government has vowed to once again cajole Maulana Fazlur Rehman, the cleric says: “It is all over now … this time the decision is final.”
The internal bickering in the federal cabinet, which started over the Hajj scam, culminated in the sacking of the two warring ministers: Religious Affairs Minister Hamid Saeed Kazmi, who belongs to the PPP, and Federal Minister for Science and Technology Azam Swati.
In protest, JUI-F submitted the resignations of two more cabinet members to the prime minister: Housing Minister Rehmatullah Kakar and Tourism Minister Maulana Attaur Rehman. However, the party decided that it will retain the chairmanship of parliamentary committees, including the committee on Kashmir affairs, which is headed by Maulana Fazlur Rehman.
Reshuffle in cabinet and bureaucracy
Earlier in the day, the government announced that Prime Minister Gilani has removed Swati and Kazmi from their portfolios.
Kazmi has been replaced by Syed Khursheed Shah, who will also continue to hold the position of the labour and manpower minister. Swati has been replaced by Sardar Assef Ahmed Ali, who will also retain his duties as minister for education.
Makhdoom Shahabuddin has been appointed the minister for defence production and has also been given additional charge of health minister.
Meanwhile, ministry of religious affairs secretary Agha Sarwar Raza Qazilbash has been asked to report to the establishment division. Overseas Pakistanis division secretary Saeed Khan has been appointed in Qazilbash’s place.
Freezing of accounts and ECL
After these notifications, the government also announced that it will freeze the accounts of Kazmi and Qazilbash, as well as the deputy secretary of the religious affairs ministry and the Hajj director-general. Their names will also be added to the Exit Control List.
PML-Q the potential ally
In case JUI-F sticks to its decision and PPP’s differences with the MQM are not sorted out, the PPP would be in dire need to either opt for interim elections or forge an alliance with another major group in the parliament: potentially the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q). The PPP is already in covert and overt contact with the PML-Q.
Although divided into groups, the PML-Q has more than 50 seats in the National Assembly and around 20 in the Senate – more than the combined strength of the JUI-F and the MQM in the parliament. This makes PML-Q a feasible, but not easy, option for the PPP to form an alliance with.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 15th, 2010.