Party Leaves Pakistan’s Ruling Coalition, Leaving It Without a Majorityhttp://www.nytimes.com/2011/
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — The second-largest party in the ruling coalition here announced late Sunday that it was ending its partnership with the Pakistan Peoples Party, putting into question the fate of Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani’s government, which is grappling with a fragile economy as it tries to ward off political and terrorism-related troubles.
Although the party, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, or M.Q.M., cited rising fuel prices, high inflation and mismanagement by the government as the reasons for its withdrawal, some analysts viewed it as a pretext to negotiate a larger role in the national coalition and in Sindh Province, whose capital, Karachi, is the country’s financial hub.
“This is not going to lead to the fall of the government,” said Najam Sethi, one of the country’s leading political analysts, but he conceded that “this is a very tricky situation.”
While the M.Q.M. left the national coalition, depriving it of a majority in the National Assembly, it remained in the coalition government in Sindh.
“These guys are just trying to negotiate to extract maximum concessions and are playing to the national sentiment,” Mr. Sethi said. “These are just political tactics, and if there was a move to bring down the government, then there would have been better coordination between opposition parties.”
Other analysts agreed that the opposition was too fragmented to oust the government. The M.Q.M also has indicated that it will not try to destabilize the government.
Although the government is expected to survive, for now, the move further weakens a coalition that is struggling to govern and that the United States is pressing to cooperate more fully in the war in Afghanistan and in opposition to the Taliban.
President Asif Ali Zardari, who is a co-chairman of the Pakistan Peoples Party, has spent the last several days in Karachi to iron out differences with the M.Q.M., which traditionally has had a hold over the city.
Mr. Gilani tried to assure the nation, rather despairingly, that his government would survive despite the sudden turn of events. “I don’t see any crisis,” he was quoted as saying by local news media outlets.
In theory, the loss of the M.Q.M. leaves Mr. Gilani’s government susceptible to a vote of no confidence in the National Assembly. But that would require cooperation among all opposition parties, and that is seen as unlikely.
Ejaz Haider, a leading political commentator and a contributing editor of The Friday Times, a Lahore-based weekly, said the political crisis could unfold in various ways, subject in large part to decisions by the M.Q.M. “The next week is going to be interesting,” Mr. Haider said.
Mr. Sethi said: “Nobody wants an election right now. All political actors want the government to deal with difficult questions like the economy, relations with America, terrorism. They want to move in when such difficult questions are left behind. I think this makes astute political sense as well.”
Arif Rafiq, a political analyst based in Washington, agreed. “No one wants to rule in Islamabad right now,” Mr. Rafiq said. “The economy is a mess, and the International Monetary Fund is pushing the federal government to impose deeply unpopular taxes. I do not anticipate a push for a confidence vote or the fall of the government in the next few months.”
“What we’ll have is an extremely weak Gilani government vulnerable to exploitation from a number of parties, including religious parties and the M.Q.M.,” he added.
“These parties will continue to oppose new taxes and a military operation in North Waziristan. The P.P.P. government will be sandwiched between the U.S. and I.M.F. on one side and the opposition parties on the other.”
Mr. Haider predicted, however, that the government would not be able to complete its five-year term, which began after elections in 2008.
There has been some speculation that President Zardari has had differences with Mr. Gilani, who has started to act more independently despite having been nominated by the president.“I think President Zardari is not too concerned right now,” Mr. Sethi said. “The heat is off Zardari and it is on Prime Minister Gilani. Either this will eventually lead to a change of the prime minister or Mr. Gilani would have to get his act together.”