New political landscape: Moving forward, political parties weigh new options

A day after the Maulana Fazlur Rehman-led Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam pulled out of the ruling coalition, mainstream political parties started weighing their options for the best bargain in the new political landscape.

All major players are opting to keep their cards close to their chests, as the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), which is trying to persuade the JUI-F chief to come back, as well as tapping other alternatives to keep its government intact.

Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani contacted the Chaudhry brothers who head the larger faction and Salim Saifullah Khan, who leads the breakaway faction of the former ruling party Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q).

Fazl, whose announcement of quitting the ruling PPP created political upheaval, first met Jamaat-e-Islami’s Qazi Hussain Ahmed and Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain of PML-Q. Later, President Asif Ali Zardari sent Syed Khurshid Shah to persuade him to change his mind.

Maulana is still apparently  adamant and vowed to keep his word. His party leaders said they had tendered their resignations from cabinet slots, but a decision to sit on opposition benches in the parliament has not yet been taken.

“We have decided to quit the government … it is a final decision. But we have not yet decided to sit on opposition benches,” Maulana Muhammad Qasim, a JUI-F MNA, who heads the National Assembly’s standing committee on religious affairs, said.

Rehman has announced that his party will retain the chair of the parliamentary committees. Some important posts like the chairman of Council of Islamic Ideology are held by a Senator from his party.

Salim Saifullah-led faction of the PML-Q, which is known as like-minded group, held a meeting in Lahore after their head received a phone call from the prime minister for cooperation. The faction claims to have the support of around 10 MNAs and half a dozen Senators, but their opponents question this claim.

Kashmala Tariq, the information secretary of PML-Q like-minded, confirmed the interaction of her group with the prime minister and said their faction was analysing the situation and would respond to the premier in a couple of days.

Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain and his cousin Pervaiz Elahi, who spearhead a bigger faction of PML-Q, also had renewed contact with the PPP leadership late on Tuesday night, their party’s sources said. PPP has contacted them in the recent past. The two, if not ideologically close, feel a common threat from the PML-N, mainly in Punjab.

Politically astute Chaudhrys of Gujrat are also not willing to show their cards and have apparently adopted a wait-and-see policy. However, they are believed to be busy in negotiating the best deal out of this situation once PPP’s issues with JUI-F and MQM are sorted out.

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