Zardari vows support for embattled PM
Islamabad, January 3, 2011
Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari threw his weight on Monday behind beleaguered Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani against any attempts to destabilise his government after a key partner quit the ruling coalition.
The opposition has not yet sought a no-confidence vote against Gilani in parliament but analysts said that was the biggest worry for the prime minister as he scrambled to shore up support.
Gilani's government lost its parliamentary majority on Sunday when the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) announced it would go into opposition over government fuel price policies that it said were 'unbearable' for Pakistanis.
The political upheaval comes at a time when the United States has increased pressure on Pakistan to go after Islamist militant groups to help it turn around the faltering war in Afghanistan.
It adds to the Pakistani government's problems at home as it struggles to meet demands placed on it by the International Monetary Fund, including politically sensitive tax reforms, in return for the remaining tranches of an $11 billion loan.
'(Zardari) has full confidence in Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani and solidly stands behind him in foiling any attempt to destabilise the coalition government,' presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar said in a statement.
The president and prime minister are from the same political party and both would be loath to see an early general election.
The country's main stock index ended 1.44 percent lower, reflecting concerns over the stability of the government, traders said.
The fall in the Karachi Stock Exchange contrasted with a rise in stocks elsewhere in Asia. The MSCI index of Asian shares outside of Japan rose 0.9 percent on Monday, although several markets were closed for a holiday.
The government is 12 seats short of the number it would need to survive a no-confidence vote. 'From this point onward, the government will be on crutches. The no-confidence vote is a threat for it,' said Ahmed Bilal Mehboob, executive director of the Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency.
Many Pakistanis are fed up with their civilian leaders. Labourer Mohammad Haider Ali said his first choice would be cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan.
'If Imran Khan cannot come, then martial law should come. General (Ashfaq) Kayani, he would be best of all ... a big stick!,' he said, referring to the army chief and expressing a desire for perceived decisive military leadership.
Analysts say they do not expect the military to intervene, although that could not be ruled out if the situation degenerated into chaos. The military has ruled Pakistan for more than half of its history.
The MQM has not taken any decision on a vote on the government, party leader Faisal Subzwari told Reuters. The party said its senators had submitted a motion seeking a rollback of fuel price rises.
Since January 1, the petrol price has risen by 9 percent, adding to inflationary pressure in a country where frustration is spreading over poverty, corruption and power cuts. - Reuters