Is Zardari seeking to oust Gilani?

March 19th, 2009 - 3:08 pm ICT by IANS  

Nawaz Sharif Islamabad, March 19 (IANS) Smarting from his capitulation to a lawyers’ protest, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari now seems to be training his guns on Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani, the man who emerged stronger with his deft handling of a crisis that had threatened to spin out of control.
Barely had the dust settled on the agitation for reinstating the Supreme Court and high court judges sacked in 2007 that Zardari reached out to a once untouchable enemy in a bid to hit out at Gilani through the back door in a familiar rerun of sub-continental political machinations.

At issue, for the moment, is government formation in Pakistan’s most politically significant province of Punjab, where chief minister Shahbaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N)-led coalition fell after the Supreme Court barred him and elder brother Nawaz Sharif from contesting elections.

Zardari’s Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) was a junior partner in the coalition.

In the wake of the lawyers’ agitation, the government not only ordered the reinstatement of the judges then president Pervez Musharraf had sacked after imposing an emergency Nov 3, 2007 but also a review of the Supreme Court verdict against the Sharifs.

Faced with the prospect of the judgment being overturned and Shahbaz Sharif returning to power, Zardari has quietly opened talks with the once-pariah Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) - which was once aligned to former president Pervez Musharraf and ruled the country till it was ousted in the February 2008 general elections - in a bid to form a PPP-led coalition.

In Zardari’s way of thinking, if he can keep Shahbaz Sharif out of Punjab, he can then target Gilani, with whom elder brother Nawaz Sharif has mended fences following the lawyers’ stir and who now seems to be willing to return the PML-N to the federal coalition.

That, however, is easier said than done. For one, the numbers are stacked up against the PPP, besides which, the Punjab unit of the PML-Q faces an internal revolt with 34 members serving notice they will not toe the leadership’s line.

The PML-N has 171 seats in the 371-member house, while the PPP has 107 and the PML-Q 83, while smaller parties and independents hold nine seats.

Till Shahbaz Sharif’s government fell, it had a more than comfortable 278-member majority in the assembly. Theoretically, a PPP-PML-Q coalition would command 190 seats - five more than the halfway mark. However, the joker in the pack is a 34-member PML-Q group calling itself the “forward bloc” that is threatening to support Shahbaz Sharif if he bids to form the government again.

Zardari is now planning an ordinance to counter this.

Gilani, according to a report in The News daily Thursday, “appears to be the first victim” of Zardari’s “extreme anger and vengeance” as the president and PML-Q satraps “are believed to have agreed to form an alliance in the Centre and deprive Gilani of premiership.

“This new strategy envisages that the PML-Q “forward bloc” in the Punjab would be legally stopped by the president by issuing an ordinance, and, once the Punjab was under control, the PPP and the Q League will go ahead with their coalition in Islamabad.

The “framework of this strategy” was finalised in secret meetings between Zardari and PML-Q leaders Shujaat Hussain, Pervaiz Elahi and Moonis Elahi, the newspaper said, adding the meetings had, however, been denied by the presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar.

The report was headlined “Get Punjab, remove PM mission in the offing”.

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