Pakistan government wins back majority

Pak`s PM yanks his govt back from the brink as MQM rejoins PPP-led coalition.

Updated: Jan 08, 2011, 00:18 AM IST

Karachi: Pakistan`s fragile PPP-led
federal government got a lifeline today when its biggest ally
MQM announced its return to the coalition after its demands
like the rollback of petrol prices were met.

But the Muttahida Qaumi Movement leaders, who held
crunch talks with Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani here, said
the party would not join the federal cabinet.

"In the larger interest of the nation and keeping in
mind the critical economic and security challenges our country
is facing, the central committee of the MQM has decided to
again sit on the government benches," senior MQM leader Reza
Haroon told reporters at the party`s headquarters `Nine Zero`.

The announcement came after Gilani, accompanied by
Interior Minister Rehman Malik and Sindh Chief Minister Syed
Qaim Ali Shah, visited the MQM headquarters for the first
time. He was showered with rose petals and was accorded a warm
welcome upon his arrival.

The premier held a long meeting with the MQM central
committee members and also spoke to party`s London-based chief
Altaf Hussain on telephone before he came out flanked by Sindh
Governor, Sindh Chief Minister, Malik and senior MQM members.

The return of the 25 MQM members to the government
benches restores the Pakistan People`s Party-led government`s
majority in the parliament at 183 seats out of 342.

After the MQM announced it would be sitting on the
opposition benches, the PPP-led government and the Prime
Minister were in acute danger of facing a vote of no
confidence in the parliament.

"We have always valued the MQM`s support as we want to
work with all progressive forces for the betterment and
progress of this country," Gilani said.

"The MQM was understandably upset with us over issues
of principles among them the rise in petroleum prices and I
have assured Altaf Bhai we will look into all their grievances
and take them on board on all important decisions," Gilani
said.

Giving in to pressure from the opposition PML-N and
estranged ally MQM, Gilani last night rolled back an unpopular
hike in fuel prices that had already resulted in one party
leaving the ruling coalition.

Following a meeting with leaders of all political
parties, Gilani yesterday announced that the decision to
reverse the fuel price hike in the National Assembly or lower
house of parliament. Gilani said an alliance between the PPP and MQM was
natural as both were progressive forces and wanted to jointly
work to face the challenges facing Pakistan.

Conspicuous by his absence from the developments today
at the MQM headquarters was Sindh Home Minister Zulfiqar Mirza
whose inflammatory statement last month about the MQM had
created the divide between the two parties.

Gilani said that he had conveyed all the grievances of
the MQM over the home minister`s statement to the President
and he had been issued instructions in this regard.

He also made it clear that in future the MQM members
and ministers would be taken on board by the PPP-led
provincial government in all important decision making issues
as hundreds of MQM workers and supporters gathered outside the
headquarters carrying pictures of their founder and raising
slogans in his favor and that of the two parties.

Reza Haroon said that the MQM had decided to sit on
opposition bench because of number of issues pertaining to
the people of Pakistan.

"The petroleum prices, the RGST issue and corruption
were among the issues we wanted clarity on. We are thankful
the President and Prime Minister for listening to our
grievances and arguments and agreeing to take all steps to
redress the peoples problems," Haroon said.

Haroon, however, said that despite sitting in the
treasury benches, the MQM will oppose any government decisions
that go against the wishes and aspirations of the people.

The PPP-led government was reduced to a minority on
January 2 after the MQM pulled out of the ruling coalition
ostensibly to protest its failure to address the people’s
problems.

Haroon said the government would have to take steps to
end corruption and address the people’s issues like price rise
and inflation.

However, the rollback of the price hike was criticised
by the US and Western donors, who have been pressing
Gilani`s government to undertake much-needed reforms to cut
spending and increase tax revenues.

The Reformed General Sales Tax regime has also been
put on the backburner by the government due to opposition from
the MQM.

PTI