Pakistan PM bows to opposition party demands

PM Gilani bowed to 11 key opposition demands to shore up his govt after PPP briefly lost its majority.

Last Updated: Jan 09, 2011, 20:51 PM IST

Islamabad: Pakistan`s Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani bowed to 11 key opposition demands Sunday in order to shore up his government after a week in which the ruling party briefly lost its majority in parliament.

The move was the latest sign of the beleaguered government`s willingness to compromise to stay in power amid ongoing fears that the fragile ruling coalition could collapse and plunge the country into fresh crisis.

The government that came to power nearly three years ago in rare democratic elections is facing Taliban-linked militancy throughout the country and crippling economic crisis, as well as the fall out of devastating floods last year.

The main opposition PML-N, led by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, had demanded that the government investigate corruption scandals, reduce non-development spending by one third, and set up an independent election body.

One of the 11 demands, that a controversial fuel price hike be reversed, was met by the ruling Pakistan People`s Party (PPP) on Friday, when it caved to pressure from another leading party in order to restore its majority in parliament.

"PM (prime minister) telephoned Mian Nawaz Sharif, PML (N) leader, and conveyed a positive response to his ten points," said a statement from the prime minister`s media office.

"... Sharif appreciated PM`s political acumen and maturity," it said.

Sharif`s party is in opposition in the federal government, but rules the government of the Punjab, the country`s most populous province, and threatened to oust the PPP from the provincial administration if it did not met its demands within six days.

Gilani`s government feared a loss of power in Punjab could trigger political unrest at the country`s centre.

The PML-N, which focuses much of its criticism of the government on allegations of corruption, often linked to President Asif Zardari, has given the government 45 days to implement the demands.

On Friday another leading political party, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, rejoined the government, restoring the prime minister`s majority, after the PPP caved into its demand to reverse a fuel price hike that international backers insisted was necessary to bolster the ailing economy.

Foreign donors have expressed concerns that Islamabad would not meet IMF targets on inflation and budget deficit levels to redress its major economic problems, made all the more urgent after catastrophic flooding last summer.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said it had been a "mistake" to reverse the fuel policy that was aimed at giving Pakistan a stronger economic base.

With the MQM lawmakers back on the treasury benches, Gilani again controls a slender majority of 185 seats in the 342-member lower house of parliament.

Bureau Report