Pakistani premier to meet opposition after coalition partner quits
Pakistan's Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani held talks Monday with opposition leaders to explore the possibility of a new alliance after a key party left the ruling coalition, dpa reported.
Sunday's announcement by the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), the second-largest party in the coalition, to switch to the opposition, has left Gilani with 12 votes short of the required 172 seats to retain a parliamentary majority.
The MQM, which has 25 seats in the 342-member parliament, said that it was quitting because of a recent massive increase in the price of oil products.
The political crisis came as the country is struggling against the Taliban-led Islamist insurgency and the aftermath of floods that affected more than 20 million people last year.
Gilani was expected to meet with Mian Shahbaz Sharif, the chief minister of the province of Punjab, and leader of the opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party.
"The meeting is being held today on the request of the prime minister. The two leaders will discuss the political situation that emerged after the MQM left the coalition," said a PML-N spokesman.
The PML-N, the largest opposition force, is lead by Sharif, a two-time former premier, and holds 91 seats in the lower house of parliament.
The premier is also expected to meet Chaudhry Shujat Hussain, leader of the second-largest opposition party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q), which has 50 members in the National Assembly.
Gilani's government does not face immediate collapse since the President Asif Ali Zardari is unlikely to ask the prime minister for a parliamentary vote of confidence. Zardari heads the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party.
The PML-N has also shown little interest in introducing a confidence vote.
But Gilani's government would need new allies to get legislation through parliament.
The MQM was the second coalition party to abandon the government.
Last month, a smaller ally, Jamiat Ulma-e-Islam, an Islamist party, quit over the sacking of one minister from the party.