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Cracks in Punjab ruling coalition as minister quits

LAHORE: The lone minister of the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) in the Punjab cabinet tendered his resignation on Friday, exposing fissures between the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and its coalition partners.

Punjab Minister for Mines and Minerals Hafiz Ammar Yasir handed over in his resignation to PML-Q leadership Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain and Punjab Assembly Speaker Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi, only days after Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry of the PTI talked about creating a forward bloc in the PML-Q.

In his resignation, Mr Yasir pointed out unwarranted interference, undue pressure and hurdles in his ministry since he assumed the portfolio over four months ago. “Owing to undue pressure and hurdles, I can no longer perform my duties, therefore, I resign,” the minister stated.

PML-Q’s lone minister in provincial cabinet complains of PTI’s ‘undue’ interference

A source privy to the development told Dawn that Mr Yasir had spoken to Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar about the “unnecessary interference” and appointment at top positions of his ministry “without his say”. However, his grievances were not heeded to, the source added. “Despite bringing this matter to the notice of Mr Buzdar many times, no step was taken by the CM to address it, which is very disappointing, leaving the minister with no option but to resign,” he said.

PML-Q information secretary former senator Kamil Ali Agha told Dawn that Mr Yasir had “serious reservations” and he had taken this step as a last resort after these were not addressed. “However, the party leadership will see this matter and try to resolve it,” he added.

Resentment in the PML-Q ranks against the PTI is brewing up as the latter has reportedly yet to honour its commitment to give two provincial and an equal number of federal ministries to the PML-Q. “There had been an understanding between the two coalition partners about this soon after the formation of the government in August 2018. However, the PTI on one pretext or another did not honour its commitment. It gave only ministries to the PML-Q, one each at the Centre and in Punjab,” a party insider said.

“The federal information minister’s hostile words about its coalition partner [PML-Q] and now refusing to address grievances of our only minister in Punjab [by Mr Buzdar] show the party is being taken for granted, which we will not allow,” he said.

While launching into a tirade against the opposition parties as a matter of routine earlier this week, Mr Chaudhry did not even spare an important coalition partner of the ruling PTI. He said: “We could have formed forward blocs in the PML-N, PML-Q and PPP but gave a favour and didn’t do so.”

Reacting strongly to the information minister’s statement, the PML-Q even threatened to say goodbye to the coalition government. “Comments by Fawad Chaudhry will surely rock or (could) even dismantle this coalition. Prime Minister Imran Khan and the PTI need to discipline children,” posted PML-Q leader Moonis Elahi on his Twitter account.

After the tweet, the PML-Q even hinted at taking up the matter with Prime Minister Imran Khan and lodged a protest against the information minister. However, a “timely” apology by Mr Chaudhry worked and the PML-Q declared that it had no intention of “pursuing the matter further”.

“All is not well between the coalition partners. There is something cooking in the ruling coalition and these two back-to-back episodes tell the story of the depth of their relations,” a PTI leader said, adding that at this stage such differences herald ‘bad news’ for the coalition. “Both in Punjab and at the Centre, the PML-Q is an important ally with 10 MPAs and five MNAs, respectively. As the PTI is ruling especially in Punjab with a tiny majority, it cannot afford to lose the PML-Q,” the PTI leader observed.

The Punjab government chose not to comment on this matter. “I am not aware of this matter [resignation of Mr Yasir] as I am busy in a function… I will speak later on this,” Punjab Information Minister Fayazul Hasan Chohan said when Dawn contacted him for his comments.

In a late-night development, Chief Minister Usman Buzdar visited the residence of PML-Q leader and Punjab Assembly Speaker Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi in a bid to resolve the resignation issue.

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