KARACHI, June 7: Sardar Ali Mohammad Mahar on Monday evening resigned as chief minister of Sindh. Governor Ishratul Ibad accepted the resignation and summoned a special session of the provincial assembly , at 11am on Wednesday to elect a new leader of the house under clause 2A of Article 130 of the constitution.

Mr Mahar, who in recent months was accused by the MQM of "not being helpful", became the major casualty of the recent terrorist attacks and the collapse of law and order in the province, especially in Karachi.

Mr Mahar's resignation put at rest, at least for the time being, speculations about imposition of governor's rule or emergency in the province and even the remote possibility of the mantle of power falling in the lap of the opposition.

The special session of the Sindh Assembly has been summoned to ascertain as to which member commands the confidence of the majority of members. Technically, with Mr Mahar's resignation, his cabinet also stood dissolved.

In a brief statement to the media in the governor's house, Dr Ibad said: "Chief Minister Sardar Ali Mohammad Mahar has resigned and I have accepted his resignation. He has cited personal reasons. I have asked Mr Mahar to continue till a new leader of the house is elected."

The motion for the purpose of the ascertainment may be deposited with the secretary of the assembly between 9am and 4pm on Tuesday, said a notification issued by Sindh Assembly secretary Hadi Bux Buriro.

When specifically asked whether Arbab Rahim, who had met MQM chief Altaf Hussain in London on Monday, would be the next leader of the house, the governor said that it was up to the coalition partners to take a decision. He said the special assembly session was being summoned ahead of the budget session.

In an apparent reference to speculations about a power struggle in the province, the governor emphatically declared that there was no political crisis. "It is for personal reasons that he has resigned. Therefore, there should not be any speculation in this respect."

It is significant that Sardar Mahar, who was originally supposed to hand over resignation to Dr Ibad at the governor's house, did not turn up and sent it through "other means".

Mr Mahar left the chief minister's house in his private four-wheel drive for his residence, without any security escort, after receiving some ministers and members of some sensitive agencies.

Mr Mahar, who was elected leader of the house on Dec 17, 2003, claimed in a statement, released by his press secretary, that he "took concrete steps for eradication of corruption and also did not compromise on issues like water shortage and National Finance Commission."

This was in sharp contrast to the criticism by the opposition which had accused him of being docile and ineffective in pleading the case of Sindh.

"I honestly performed my duty as the chief minister, provided jobs to people and I am satisfied while submitting my resignation," said Mr Mahar in the statement. He thanked the people of the province and Gen Pervez Musharraf, Pir Pagara, Mr Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi, Mr Altaf Hussain, and other coalition partners and ministers for their support.

Mr Mahar, who was seen as a 'dormant' chief minister, claimed that he promoted "a positive political culture and did not resort to victimization". But his political opponents accused him of compromising on vital interests of Sindh, especially on water issue - Kalabagh dam and Greater Thal canal - and held his government responsible for the breakdown in law and order, rise in the incidence of karo-kari, terrorism of all sorts and growing unemployment.

Observers are of the opinion that Mr Mahar's immediate successor, who will be an 'interim arrangement' like the Mirani government, will face an uphill task of improving the law and order situation.

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