ISLAMABAD, Dec 9: The government's efforts to get the controversial Reformed General Sales Tax (RGST) bill approved by National Assembly suffered a new blow on Thursday when JUI-F declared that it would not only oppose but vote against the proposed tax law.

“The government should withdraw the (RGST) bill to avoid embarrassment,” JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman advised the government while talking to a group of reporters after presiding over a parliamentary party meeting at the Parliament House.

Answering a question, the JUI-F chief categorically stated that the party's members would not abstain or boycott the session and it was their “principled and final” decision to vote against the RGST bill which, according to him, “is being moved at the behest of the US and International Monetary Fund (IMF)”.

Maulana Fazlur Rehman, who had convened the parliamentary party meeting soon after his return from abroad after almost two weeks, disclosed that at his previous meetings with President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani the government had promised that Finance Minister Abdul Hafeez Sheikh would hold negotiations with them on the RGST issue. He, however, regretted that so far no government official or the minister had contacted the party which had nominated Senator Talha Mehmood as the chief negotiator.The JUI-F chief said the activities of the US ambassador in the country were a clear proof that the government wanted to impose the RGST because of foreign pressure and announced that his party would oppose each and every act of the government that could go in the US interests.

There were speculations in the media as well as political circles that the JUI-F would support the government on the RGST issue after appointment of Senator Mohammad Khan Sheerani as chairman of the Council of Islamic Ideology. However, the party declared that Maulana Sheerani's appointment had nothing to do with the RGST issue as it had been made in the light of an agreement reached between the JUI-F and PPP at the time of the formation of the government after 2008 elections.

After the decision of JUI-F, which has eight members in the National Assembly, the ruling PPP with 128 members is now left only with the support of the 13-member ANP and a dozen independents, including 11 Fata MNAs, over the controversial tax law that the government had tabled in both the houses of parliament on Nov 12.

The numerical strength of 10 political parties having representation in the 342-member National Assembly clearly shows that if the opponents of the proposed RGST and Flood Surcharge laws stand by their words and vote according, the government has no chance to carry the controversial bills through the lower house.

The role of MQM, a coalition partner of PPP at the Centre and Sindh, has now acquired more importance for the government to get the two bills passed from the National Assembly as well as for the opposition to block the move.

However, despite a direct call by the US Ambassador Cameron Munter to seek the MQM's support during his visit to the party's headquarters 'Nine Zero' in Karachi last week, the party is still determined to block the passage of the RGST.

A source in the MQM confirmed it to Dawn that the US ambassador had asked them to support the government on the RGST. He, however, claimed that the party had made no commitment with the ambassador who had been categorically told that the MQM would not vote for the bill.

Political experts say if the parties stick to their positions which they had acquired in the Senate at the time of the finalisation of the recommendations on the bill last month, and the opponents of the proposed law manage to ensure 100 per cent participation of their members in the voting process, then it is next to impossible for the PPP to pass the controversial laws from the National Assembly, expected to meet on Dec 20.

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