Coalition partners outsmart PML-N on gas demos, play ‘new provinces card’

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Under immense pressure from the PML-N backed public demonstrations across Punjab against gas outages, the top leaders of coalition government on Tuesday smartly played their “new provinces card” to shift media and public’s attention from real issues being faced by the people at large – including gas and power shortages, massive increase in CNG prices and power tariff.
A source in one of the coalition party told Pakistan Today that under the plan, the government now feels that it would take the new provinces controversy to a level that might inflame public sentiments on both sides of political divide, followed by the media that would help shift public attention from real issues being faced by the public.
Per source, the plan was given final touches during an hour-long meeting held on Monday in the National Assembly between four top leaders of the coalition partners –Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, Asfandyar Wali Khan, Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi and Haider Abbas Rizvi.
“It was the idea of Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani to use the resolution submitted by the MQM to shift public and media attention from gas and electricity load shedding, which he believed was being used by the PML-N leadership to provoke public demonstrations,” said the source. The source added Gilani’s idea was discussed in length and MQM and PML-Q leaders were asked to play on the new provinces mantra while the ANP had to defend it.
“The following day – on Tuesday – every character played his role per the script and now the National Assembly is all set to debate the new provinces mantra which would shift the media focus from real issues,” added the source.
Political analyst Prof Dr Rasool Bakhsh Raees said the government’s plan was a “damage-control exercise” as the popularity of the coalition partners had already been hit hard. “Yes, these are seasoned politicians who are smart enough to drive the media’s attention away from real issues. However, they can no more befool the public who are facing problems and their focus can’t be distracted as every day they are facing the brunt of power and gas shortages and they are paying hefty bills,” he added.
Dr Raees, however, said the new provinces issue was a wise choice on part of the coalition, as they could play with the public sentiments on both sides.
“There is a minority view for creation of new provinces while a vast majority is against this idea. Now, once you play with emotions on both sides, you can cash your objectives. But the government can only shift media focus from real issues by this idea,” he said. The analyst said the people were hard-pressed with rising inflation and even the shift of media’s focus would not be able to shift their attention from issues they were facing.
“I think new provinces mantra would not help the government to win elections. Rather, they would have to rig elections if they can,” he said. On Tuesday, it was MQM’s Haider Abbas Rizvi who on a point of order sought permission from the chair for a debate on his party’s resolution, however, Bilour strictly rejected a debate, stating that no debate could be allowed by the National Assembly as only provincial assemblies, per the constitution, could pass a resolution by two-thirds majority to create any new province.
Sheikh Aftab of the PML-N suggested that before discussing the issue in the House, it should be taken up first at the Business Advisory Committee.
“The matter is of great national importance and any haste in discussing it at this time will serve no good.” He said a non-issue was being made an issue.
Supporting MQM’s point of view, PML-Q’s Sheikh Waqas Akram said the creation of new provinces was necessary to address peoples’ problems in a better way. “Formation of new provinces will help solve peoples’ grievances and governance issues.”
Minister for Railways Ghulam Ahmed Bilour, while opposing the discussion in the National Assembly, said as the matter was related to provinces, the concerned provincial assemblies should discuss it.
Finally, it was Prime Minister Gilani who stole the show by fully supporting the creation of Seraiki province. Taking advantage of the situation, he also took to task PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif for his statement about military courts and sent quiet messages to different recipients without naming anyone.