Pakistan PM moves to save coalition after ally departs

Pakistan PM moves to save coalition after ally departs

ISLAMABAD - Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani scrambled to save his ruling coalition on Monday after a key partner withdrew, plunging a country vital to U.S. efforts to pacify Afghanistan into a political crisis.

By (Reuters)

Published: Mon 3 Jan 2011, 6:10 PM

Last updated: Wed 26 Aug 2020, 6:52 PM

The opposition has not yet sought a no-confidence vote against Gilani in parliament but analysts say that is the biggest worry for the government, struggling to revive a fragile economy and contain domestic Taliban militants.
Gilani’s government lost its parliamentary majority on Sunday after the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) announced it would go into opposition over government fuel price policies that it said were “unbearable” for Pakistanis.
The political upheaval comes at a time when the United States has increased pressure on Pakistan to go after Islamist militant groups to help it turn around the faltering war in Afghanistan.
It adds to the Pakistani government’s problems at home as it struggles to meet demands placed on it by the International Monetary Fund, including politically-sensitive tax reforms, in return for an $11 billion loan.
The country’s main stock index ended 1.44 percent, reflecting concerns over the stability of the government, traders said.
The fall in the Karachi Stock Exchange contrasted with a rise in stocks elsewhere in Asia. The MSCI index of Asian shares outside of Japan rose 0.9 percent on Monday, although several markets were closed for a holiday.
The MQM’s withdrawal means that if opposition parties close ranks, they would be able to force a no-confidence vote on Gilani in parliament.
“From this point onward, the government will be on crutches. The no-confidence vote is a threat for it.” said Ahmed Bilal Mehboob, executive director of the Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency.
The MQM has not yet taken any decision on a vote in the government, party leader Faisal Subzwari told Reuters. The party said its senators had submitted a motion seeking a rollback of fuel price rises.
Since January 1, the petrol price has risen by 9 percent, adding to inflationary pressures in a country where frustrations are spreading over poverty, corruption and power cuts.
While anger over fuel prices was the immediate provocation, the MQM has also been complaining for months that the government was not doing enough to improve security in its home base of Karachi, Pakistan’s financial capital and biggest city.
Karachi’s so-called targeted killings, often blamed on supporters of the MQM and its rival party, the Awami National Party, have risen to their highest levels in 15 years.
Drive-by shootings, drug wars, extortion rackets and land grabbing are deepening chaos in Karachi, which officials say contributes 68 percent of the government’s total revenue and 25 percent of gross domestic product.


If the political crisis deteriorates, an early election may be called in Pakistan, where the al Qaeda-linked Taliban have been stepping up suicide bombings, challenging government assertions that army offensives had hurt militants.
Gilani met the president of the biggest opposition party in the National Assembly, the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) on Monday.
He also sought the support of Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, leader of another major opposition party, the PML-Q. After talks Gilani told reporters Hussain never discussed the idea of replacing the prime minister.
Hussain did not say whether his party would seek a no-confidence vote on Gilani, but said it would not try to “blackmail” the government, suggesting it was not after political favours.
Gilani is known as one of the few officials who managed to avoid making too many enemies in Pakistan politics.
He enjoys good ties with Pakistan’s powerful military, which has ruled the country for more than half of its 63-year history.
The MQM pullout came after Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Islam (JUI), a pro-Taliban religious party, quit the coalition last month and went into opposition after Gilani sacked one of its ministers.
The party repeated its call for Gilani’s resignation and said it ruled out rejoining the coalition.
“Gilani has no moral grounds on which he stays in power anymore. He should step down himself instead someone throws him out,” said party deputy leader Abdul Ghafoor Haideri.
“The president should ask him to seek a confidence vote from the parliament.”
While analysts doubt that Gilani would see out his term, which ends in 2013, the chances of the opposition forming a new ruling alliance are slim. The PML-N, headed by popular politician Nawaz Sharif, does not enjoy close ties with other opposition parties.
The political paralysis raises fresh questions about the government’s ability to push through reforms that the IMF says are necessary to avoid an economic meltdown.
Even before the latest setback, the government faced opposition from almost all political parties,including the MQM, to its bid to implement a reformed general sales tax (RGST) — a key condition for the possible release of the sixth tranche of the IMF loan.
The withdrawal of the biggest party from the coalition, will make its task even harder.

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