ISLAMABAD, June 25: Three days after his election, Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf fulfilled on Monday a major demand of the PPP’s main ally, PML-Q, and designated Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi as his deputy.
Soon after President Asif Ali Zardari administered the oath to 15 more ministers – all from the PML-Q – at a ceremony at the Presidency, the Cabinet Division issued a notification announcing creation of the new office of deputy prime minister.
The oath-taking ceremony was held soon after the prime minister returned to Islamabad from Karachi.
With the induction of eight federal ministers and seven ministers of state, the cabinet’s strength has now reached 53 – just 10 short of the Gilani cabinet.
The number of PML-Q members in the Pervez Ashraf cabinet has now reached 16 – two more than the Gilani cabinet.
Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi was the only party man who had taken oath as federal minister with Mr Ashraf and 38 other cabinet members on Friday.
The issuance of the notification regarding appointment of Mr Elahi as deputy prime minister confirmed speculations that the PML-Q had intentionally delayed the induction of its members to the cabinet to put pressure on the PPP to fulfil the commitment which, according to the PML-Q, President Zardari had made last year when the party had decided to join the ruling coalition.
According to the notification, the deputy prime minister’s office will be symbolic as Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi will not be able to enjoy the chief executive’s powers even in the absence of the prime minister.
“The prime minister has been pleased to designate Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi, Federal Minister for Defence Production and Industries, as Deputy Prime Minister with immediate effect and until further orders. This shall not confer upon him any powers of the prime minister in any manner whatsoever,” the notification said.
Those who took oath as federal ministers on Monday were Sardar Bahadur Khan Sehar, Liaquat Abbas Bhatti, Sardar Talib Hussain Nakai, Sheikh Waqas Akram, Anwar Ali Cheema, Ghous Bukhsh Mehr, Jam Muhammad Yousaf and Chaudhry Wajahat Hussain. Rana Asif Tauseef, Malik Nauman Ahmed Langrial, Sardar Shahjehan Yousaf, Senator Saeed Khan Mandokhel, Chaudhry Ghias Ahmed Mela, Akram Masih Gill and Khawaja Sheraz Mehmood have been made ministers of state.
Senior PML-Q legislators Faisal Saleh Hayat, Riaz Hussain Pirzada and Raza Hayat Hiraj, who were members of the Gilani cabinet, are not part of the new cabinet due to some internal differences with the leadership.
While Mr Hayat and Mr Hiraj had refused to accept the cabinet slot, sources said the PML-Q leadership had not recommended the name of Mr Pirzada for any cabinet position after getting some reports that he was considering quitting the party and negotiating with the PML-N.
Sources said the PML-Q leadership tried hard to persuade Mr Hayat and Mr Hiraj to accept the ministerial slots, but to no avail.
Mr Hayat refused to join the new cabinet because he had filed a case against Mr Ashraf in the Supreme Court for alleged corruption in the controversial rental power projects when the latter was the water and power minister. Mr Hayat had earlier refused to vote for Mr Ashraf, but relented after persuasion by the party’s leadership.
A PML-Q leader reportedly said that Mr Hiraj had refused to join the cabinet after the leadership turned down his request to become a federal minister instead of a minister of state.
The PML-Q, which had been promised the office of deputy prime minister and more than twenty ministries when it joined the PPP-led ruling coalition last year, was not happy with portfolios allocated to its members in the Gilani cabinet.
Moreover, the PML-Q leadership considered Mr Gilani as the main hurdle in creation of the office of deputy prime minister.
Mr Gilani’s disqualification, however, provided an opportunity to the PML-Q to exploit the situation and do tough bargaining. Sources in the PPP told Dawn that when President Zardari was desperate to get the support of allies before nominating a candidate for premiership after Mr Gilani’s disqualification, the Chaudhry brothers reminded the PPP co-chairman of his past commitment, making their support conditional upon the appointment of Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi as deputy prime minister.
Besides the office of deputy prime minister and other cabinet positions, the sources said, the PML-Q leadership also wanted more development funds for its legislators.