ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – A key party that had defected this week from Pakistan’s ruling coalition returned to the government Friday, a move that averts a major political crisis at a time when Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani’s embattled administration is struggling to overcome mounting economic turmoil and a resilient insurgency.
The Muttahida Qaumi Movement’s (MQM) decision to rejoin the coalition, led by Gilani’s Pakistan Peoples Party, came just a day after Gilani told the nation he was reversing his decision to impose fuel price increases as high as 9 percent that had kicked in Jan. 1. The highly unpopular hikes had been harshly criticized by a broad spectrum of political leaders, and MQM officials had cited them on Jan. 2 as a prime reason why the party was leaving the ruling coalition and joining the opposition.
MQM’s departure had left Gilani without a majority in parliament, making his government vulnerable to collapse. The fall of the government would deal a severe blow to the country just as it embarks on the daunting task of reconstruction following catastrophic summer floods that cost billions of dollars in damaged housing, farmland and infrastructure.
The ruling Pakistan Peoples Party has also had to grapple with the aftermath of the assassination of one of its top political leaders, Punjab Gov. Salman Taseer, who was gunned down in Islamabad on Tuesday by one of his own bodyguards. Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, a member of the elite police force team assigned to provide security for Taseer, said he carried out the murder in retaliation for the governor’s opposition to a Pakistani law that makes it a crime to insult the tenets of Islam.
One of MQM’s top leaders, Raza Haroon, announced his party’s decision to rejoin the government after Gilani met with high-ranking MQM officials Friday in Karachi, the party’s primary stronghold and Pakistan’s largest city. MQM is the second-largest party in the ruling coalition and maintains 25 seats in parliament. Though MQM resumed its place within the coalition, it decided against returning its ministers to Gilani’s Cabinet.