Lahore: Former Pakistani premier Nawaz Sharif`s PML-N party has decided in principle to part ways with the Pakistan People`s Party in the politically crucial province of Punjab, where the two parties have been uneasy partners in a coalition government for nearly three years.
The PML-N, which is the main opposition party at the centre, is expected to announce its decision to part with the PPP in Punjab and to expel PPP ministers from the provincial government on February 25, when a deadline set by Sharif to implement a 10-point reforms agenda will expire.
The PML-N is expected to form a new alliance in Punjab, the country`s most populous province, with the group of 47 dissident PML-Q lawmakers that was recently given legitimate status by the Speaker of the provincial assembly by allocating them separate seats in the House.
The PML-N has reportedly assured the dissidents that they will be given four ministries.
Parliamentarian Pervaiz Rashid, a close confidant of Nawaz Sharif, said that there would be no "last minute” change of heart on the decision to remove the PPP from the Punjab government.
Another PML-N leader, who did not want to be named, said: "Almost all important leaders of our party have publicly announced that the PPP will be shown the door. It will be embarrassing and politically damaging for us to say that we are giving another chance to the PPP."
Sources said matters came to a head between the two parties following several inconclusive rounds of talks on the PML-N`s reforms agenda, which included pruning the size of the federal cabinet, slashing government spending and keeping politicians facing allegations of corruption out of ministerial slots.
The PPP`s leadership has said that its seven ministers in Punjab will not tender their resignations. Senior PPP leader Raja Riaz even said that his party will have no regrets if the PML-N decides to go separate ways.
"We will offer special prayers for thanksgiving if that happens," he recently told reporters. Riaz, the head of PPP legislators in Punjab, said: "But the ball is in the PML-N`s court till it makes a formal announcement."
He criticised the PML-N chief for reviving what he described as the "politics of horse-trading".
"Nobody in the political arena was expecting that Nawaz Sharif will endorse the allocation of separate seats to turncoats in the Punjab Assembly. I congratulate him for embracing turncoats," he said. Meanwhile, the PML-Q has issued show cause notices to 15 of its dissident legislator.
"The next step will be the filing of a reference in the Election Commission on the change of their loyalty," PML-Q leader Chaudhry Zaheeruddin said.
Such a compliant could force the Election Commission to begin proceedings to disqualify the legislators, observers said.
There is also a division in the ranks of PPP ministers and legislators about the strategy to be adopted by the party in the current circumstances.
Some leaders believe that the PPP should sit in the opposition benches and let the PML-N-led government continue functioning without seeking a trust vote.
Through such a step, the PPP will succeed in giving an impression that it is sincere about "saving the democratic system" and minimise the important of the PML-Q dissidents.
Another group in the PPP believes it will be unwise
not to ask Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif to seek a vote of confidence.
"If we do not go for it, that means we are not serious about exploiting the issue of horse-trading," said a PPP legislator.