LAHORE: Beleaguered Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani threw himself headlong into meetings with the top leaders of two major opposition parties on Monday as the ruling party began a frantic search for new coalition partners.
During a three-and-a-half-hour meeting with Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, Gilani spoke about the political fallout from the Muttahida Qaumi Movement’s (MQM) decision to sit on the opposition benches in parliament. Both men agreed to meet again and come up with more suggestions. They also broached the issue of petroleum prices, inflation in general and the suspension of gas and electricity supply.
Shahbaz is expected to share with the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz’s policymaking unit the gist of his discussions with the premier. Only then will the party take a final decision on whether to support the government or not.
Later in the day, Gilani went to the residence of the head of the Pakistan Muslim League–Quaid (PML-Q) Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain. Gilani told reporters after the meeting that Chaudhry Shujaat had promised to back him in case a no-trust motion was brought against him in parliament. He claimed that he had won assurances from the PML-Q that it would not allow the system to derail. However, Gilani said, the PML-Q support was conditional on good governance.
“I never had a majority on my side in the past but my three-year term is unprecedented in the history of the country,” the premier remarked. In the past he said the PML-Q has extended him a vote of confidence and had supported his party on principle in times of crisis.
Speaking on the occasion, Chaudhry Shujaat said that his party was not against the government and had no desire to blackmail it but added that the government should cut the price of electricity.
On Monday, a delegation of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl led by Maulana Abdul Gafoor Haideri also met Chaudhry Shujaat and Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi. Haideri made it clear that the JUI-F had no intention of rejoining the government. At the same time, the JUI secretary general called upon the prime minister to step down because his party had lost its majority in parliament.
Chaudhry Shujaat was noncommittal about the ultimate stand his party would take. The decision to support or oppose the prime minister was a difficult one to make, especially in a single meeting. But in the country’s interest he said his party would take a decision after consulting other party members.
Maulana Haideri was a little more candid though, indicating that both the parties had decided to “play their true role of opposition” in the National Assembly, opposing every wrong move of the government.
On whether his party intended to quit the provincial government in Balochistan, Maulana Haideri said that such a move would be taken after analysing the situation in the province.
Commenting on the MQM’s defection to the opposition benches in parliament, Maulana Haideri said the party had brought about a radical change in the political equation. He heaped scorn at the PML-N and its leaders for not playing the role of an opposition party and insisting it would not be a part of any resolution against the prime minister in the National Assembly.
For his part Chaudhry Shujaat said that he would make his stand clear after meeting with the prime minister and his party leaders. However, former Punjab chief minister Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi dared the PML-N to make its stance public before that. (With input from wires)
Published in The Express Tribune, January 4th, 2011.
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