Pakistan: Gilani scrambles for new alliances to save crisis-hit government

Pakistan: Gilani scrambles for new alliances to save crisis-hit government
Lahore: In a desperate move to shore up support, Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani today met top leaders of the Opposition PML-N and PLM-Q, but got no firm assurance from them on saving his tottering government.

A beleaguered Gilani emerging from the crisis talks, however, claimed that the two main Opposition parties had said they would not back any move "that derails democracy".

Gilani took the step to reach out to the PML-N and the PML-Q, as clamour mounted for his resignation following the withdrawal of support from the 25-member strong Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), a development that reduced his government to a minority left with only 160 members in a 342 strong National Assembly.

First he met PML-N leader Shahbaz Sharif and then drove to the Lahore residence of former premier Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, the chief of PML-Q, once described by President Asif Ali Zardari as the "qatil (killer) league" for its government's alleged failure to provide protection to his wife Benazir Bhutto at the time of her assassination in 2007.

The desperate moves by Gilani came as leaders of his erstwhile ally Jamiet Ulema-e-Islam called for his stepping down, saying he had lost support in Parliament, triggering horse trading in search of new alliances.

Following separate meetings with Gilani, a day after the MQM pulled out of the ruling coalition, leaders of the PML-N and PML-Q said they would not take any step that derails democracy or amounted to "blackmailing" the government.

Emerging from a meeting with PML-Q chief Hussain, Gilani told reporters: "He has said that no step will be taken (by the PML-Q) that derails democracy".

The top leadership of the PML-Q will hold further consultations tomorrow on the question of supporting the PPP-led government, Gilani said.

Former premier Hussain said the PML-Q had given unconditional support to Gilani so far but had now set the condition that the government should address the people's problems to get its backing in future.

At an earlier meeting with Gilani, senior PML-N leader and Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif said "democracy had become a reality after a long struggle against dictatorial regimes" and his party "would not let it be derailed". The PML-N's top leadership will discuss the issue of backing the government at a meeting to be chaired tomorrow by party chief Nawaz Sharif.

The PPP-led government is currently facing its worst crisis since it came to power after the 2008 general election. The MQM, which draws its power from the Urdu-speaking people of Karachi, played a key role in propping up the government with its 25 parliamentarians.

The MQM said it decided to leave the ruling coalition because the government had failed to tackle the people's problems, including price rise and corruption, though observers contended the move could be part of a greater effort to weaken the PPP's grip on power.

The PPP has 126 members in the National Assembly or lower house of Parliament, and enjoys the support of about 160 lawmakers.

It is at least 12 seats short of a simple majority and PPP leaders have begun a desperate scramble to shore up support for the government's survival.

Observers said the PML-N's decision not to back any move against the government was influenced by the fact that it had only 91 lawmakers in parliament.

Party spokesman Ahsan Iqbal said: "The PML-N is evaluating the situation. For bringing about a change in the country, we need 172 lawmakers but the PML-N has only 91".

During his meeting with the PML-N and PML-Q leaders, Gilani noted that he had unanimously been elected Leader of the House in the National Assembly and the opposition parties had always backed the government on issues that strengthened institutions and democracy.

This tradition should be continued by extending support to his government at this juncture, he said. The 2008 election had thrown up a split mandate and no party has majority in Parliament, Gilani said. The PPP has banked on support from its allies and the Opposition on key issues, he added.

"I never had majority support but it was unprecedented in Pakistan's history that I got unanimous support (during the election as Leader of the House)," he said.

Asked by reporters about the possibility of a no-confidence move against him, Gilani said this could happen in only two ways  the President could ask him to seek a confidence vote or a motion could be introduced in Parliament by any party.

He did not comment further on the issue. The Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, which too pulled out of the PPP-led government last month, sent a delegation of senior leaders led by Abdul Ghafoor Haideri to meet PML-Q chief Hussain to ask him not to support the ruling coalition.

Haideri said the JUI would introduce a no-confidence motion in Parliament if Gilani and his cabinet did not resign. However, observers said such a move by the JUI would fail as the party has only eight lawmakers and virtually no backing from bigger parties like PML-Q or PML-N.

Imtiaz Safdar Warraich, president of the PPP's Punjab chapter, too said the JUI would not move any no-confidence motion and the crisis would soon be over.

PPP central information secretary Fauzia Wahab said that her party had no plans to remove Gilani from the premier's slot.

"The PPP is sure that it will not change Prime Minister Gilani. We will foil any move in this regard," she said.