Pakistan Muslim League (PML-Q) come-back as a major political power should not have been entirely unexpected – given the conciliatory politics that the Chaudhrys of Gujrat are now notorious for, the party had waited in the wings with extreme patience for nearly four years.
If memory serves right, back in 2008, Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi had flown to London to see if he could secure a spot in the PPP-MQM coalition. But the distrust between the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the PML-Q was still high and there seemed no way to break the impasse.
It took another two years for the PPP to get fed up with its initial partners, the PML-N and MQM, and finally consider the PML-Q as a serious coalition contender. From October 2010 to April 2011, there was a lot of back and forth but the two parties eventually agreed on a power sharing formula, and so the PML-Q made its way back into high profile politicking after three long years of negotiations.
And even though it did take advantage of the sudden leverage it had been managed to gain a foothold of – for instance, in May 2012 the PML-Q threatened to withdraw its support in the next general elections if the power crisis was not resolved – the party managed to keep its relations congenial at best.
Hence, lasting words those were not and just less than a month on in June 2012, the PML-Q has its prime man, Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi, as the deputy prime minister, 16 slots in the federal cabinet and six slots as advisors to the prime minister.
With the current National Assembly just having eight months left to complete its five-year constitutional term, questions are being asked about the political mileage that the PML-Q accrues with the deal with the PPP.
“With this new deal, we have not only saved our party until next general elections, but also ensured its entity as a potent political player in next general elections,” admitted a senior PML-Q leader during an off-the-record interview with this correspondent.
“On the eve of Raja Pervez Ashraf’s election as the new prime minister, over 40 MNAs of the party voted for him on the instructions of party leadership. This was at a time when many had predicted that the PML-Q was a story of the past,” said the PML-Q leader.
In fact, so long-term is the party’s planning that it is claimed that it has only chosen those lawmakers for the cabinet slots who would be elected in their constituencies, so that the leadership has no problems in fielding them as candidates in the 2013 general elections.
According to the PML-Q leader, “regretful though it is, Pakistans still a feudal society where power matters, and constituents expect their representatives to do jobs and development works in their areas that only a sitting minister would be able to deliver. Thus, it is imperative for the PMLQ to remain associated with the ruling coalition.”
He further opined that except for Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaaf, the remaining political parties were in power at the moment.
“The PML-N is a ruling party in Punjab that makes 60 per cent of the country, others, including the ANP, MQM, Muslim League-Functional, even majority of independents are sitting in government, who at the end of the day will have to carry this baggage of being in power into next elections,” he said.
On the other hand, according to another PML-Q lawmaker, who is also part of the new cabinet, with the defection clause in place, party legislators were bound to follow orders of the party head in the election of the new PM. “They would have lost their membership, as the party leadership has decided to send reference against party lawmakers who had abstained from voting,” he explained.
Hence, even though Faisal Saleh Hayat and Raza Hayat Hiraj – both senior PML-Q members who were part of the Gilani cabinet – voted for Mr Ashraf against the PML-N candidate, they are not part of the new cabinet.
Appearing on several TV talk shows since the oath-taking ceremony of his colleagues on June 26, Mr Hiraj has clarified that he couldn’t become part of the government that had failed to deliver. But, there are reports Mr Hiraj wanted to become federal minister instead of state minister which the party offered him that led to his refusal to join the cabinet.
In the case of Mr Hayat the reason is quite obvious: he was the main petitioner against Raja Ashraf in the Supreme Court in the Rental Power Project (RPP) case when he was federal minister for water and power. As a result, the apex court cancelled RPP deals, finding them to have been carried out in a shady manner and directed investigating agencies such as NAB and FIA to find if the former power minister and sitting Prime Minister, Mr Ashraf, was directly involved in the doubtful transactions.
When enquired whether the PML-Q would remain intact and go into next elections with its present strength, the PML-Q minister contended: “In case PML-Q and PPP decide to form an electoral alliance and all sitting party lawmakers were given tickets, then the PML-Q legislators would think before switching over to other parties. Otherwise, as far as my information is concerned, all the PML-Q lawmakers except for a few close relatives of the Chaudhrys are in touch with other parties and just waiting for the announcement of next elections, they are sure to weigh their options.”