KARACHI : Senior leaders in Pakistan's unpopular coalition government met for crisis talks on Tuesday after its second-largest partner announced its ministers were quitting the federal cabinet.
President Asif Ali Zardari held talks with Interior Minister Rehman Malik and close ally Qaim Ali Shah, chief minister of southern Sindh province, at his Karachi bungalow to avoid any possibility of becoming a minority government.
The Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) said Monday it was withdrawing its two ministers from the federal cabinet — a move that could threaten the narrow parliamentary majority of Zardari's Pakistan People's Party (PPP).
“The president doesn't want to lose MQM's support and is in no mood to accept his ministers' resignations,” a PPP leader told AFP on condition of anonymity.
“The interior minister is in contact with the MQM leadership to settle the differences.”
MQM spokesman Wasay Jaleel told AFP that the party had sent the resignation of Farooq Sattar, minister for overseas Pakistanis, to the presidency while the resignation of ports and shipping minister Babar Ghauri would be sent later.
The MQM has so far stopped short of leaving the coalition, raising the prospect that a deal could be reached to prevent them from joining the opposition.
The party has 25 lawmakers in the national assembly but only two ministers in the federal cabinet.
If accepted, the MQM resignations would be a blow just weeks after the country's most prominent religious party took its three cabinet ministers and seven lawmakers out of the government, sparking fears of a domino effect.
The religious party's leader and Pakistan's most prominent Islamic politician, pro-Taliban cleric Fazlur Rehman, said there was no chance of rejoining the government and demanded Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani resign.
“The prime minister should resign and the PPP should appoint a new one,” Rehman told reporters.
His Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Fazl (JUIF) party walked out on December 14 after Gilani sacked one of its three cabinet ministers over a war of words with religious affairs minister Hamid Saeed Kazmi, a PPP member, who was also fired.
Their spat related to a corruption scandal reportedly implicating Kazmi's ministry in booking accommodation for tens of thousands of Pakistani pilgrims.
The departure of JUIF reduced the PPP's coalition to 185 seats in the 342-member national assembly, just 13 more than the 172 required for a majority.
Support from the MQM, which represents the Urdu-speaking majority in Pakistan's financial capital of Karachi, is crucial to the government.
The loss of its 25 lawmakers would leave the coalition in a parliamentary minority and could bring down the government.
Announcing the imminent resignations late on Monday evening, the MQM accused the government of failing to curb corruption and control inflation.
Its relations with the PPP have soured over an explosion of political violence in Karachi, which saw more than 155 people killed earlier this year.
The murders were linked to MQM loyalists and their rivals from the Awami National Party (ANP), which represents Pashtun migrants from northwest.
– AFP /ls
Channel News Asia