Major Reshuffle In Federal Cabinet On The Cards After Eid

PML-N seeks to consolidate its allies, given PTI's planned protests. MQM-P is likely to be offered additional ministries

Major Reshuffle In Federal Cabinet On The Cards After Eid

Even though it has been just a month since the new government took over and the federal cabinet has barely had time to settle in, the government is mulling a major reshuffle to accommodate coalition partners.

This reshuffle is expected to take place soon after Eidul Fitr.

The reshuffle could come at a crucial moment for the coalition government, which faces a tricky situation with a crisis brewing on the horizon after the opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) hinted at launching a protest inside and outside the Parliament after Eidul Fitr.

The ruling party is faced with the choice of carefully balancing the allocation of key cabinet and parliamentary slots to consolidate the delicate coalition and fortify it against the opposition's agitation to maintain the government's smooth running.

Thus far, the Pakistan Muslim-League Nawaz (PML-N) government has easily tackled the tricky task of distributing key positions within the cabinet thanks to the decision taken by its major coalition partner, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). While backing the PML-N to form a government in the centre, Punjab and Balochistan, the PPP was content to sit outside the federal government in exchange for key Constitutional and parliamentary positions such as the seat of President on which PPP Co-Chairman Asif Ali Zardari was elected last month. They also banked on PML-N's support in the recently-held Senate elections.

This provided greater room for the PML-N to distribute ministries among coalition partners while keeping the federal cabinet relatively lean.

It is pertinent to mention that the federal cabinet under the previous Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) swelled to a mammoth 74 members at its highest. By comparison, the current cabinet has 19 members, including 18 federal ministers, a minister of state, and a solitary special assistant. Of these, only 12 are members of the PML-N. 

PML-N's curveball to award two key ministries to non-parliamentary (at least initially) individuals, with Mohsin Naqvi taking the all-important interior ministry and Muhammad Aurangzeb getting the critical finance and revenue portfolios, set a marker for allied parties on the direction that the ruling coalition would adopt.

Even though the PPP remains out of the federal cabinet, the PML-N's remaining allies do not share the same sentiment and have been demanding a greater share in the federal cabinet apart from parliamentary positions such as chairmanships of standing committees in the National Assembly.

One of these parties is the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P). The MQM-P, the third largest political party in the coalition government, had reluctantly extended support to the PML-N and the PPP in the prime ministerial and presidential elections. Its demands of at least two ministries - including its favoured Information Technology ministry - in the federal cabinet were jointly dashed by the PPP and the PML-N. Instead, a sword dangled over the fate of Sindh Governor Kamran Tessori, who is essentially aligned with the MQM-P. 

The MQM-P had a public spat with both the PML-N and the PPP. Leaked audios of their leaders, including former Karachi mayor Mustafa Kamal and Tessori, expressed their disappointment with being offered far less than their expectations and even facing the prospect of being frozen out of the cabinet altogether. 

But now, the MQM-P hopes to get additional ministries after the Eidul Fitr holiday. These portfolios could include the Ministry of Health and some other portfolios. Tessori's position could also be reinforced.

Senior parliamentarians shared that elsewhere, the PML-N could shake up the composition of the federal cabinet to accommodate allies from Balochistan-based partners.

While requesting not to be named since they were not authorised to share the information at this stage, they said the distribution of several portfolios would be decided after the Eid vacations.

They said the ruling party was hoping to accommodate all of its allies by distributing ministerial portfolios. Allies will also be accommodated by being awarded the chairmanships of certain standing committees in the lower house of parliament.

The PPP has been pushing the PML-N to award it the chairmanships of some important standing committees since they had decided to forego ministries in the centre.

Members of the ruling party and political experts were reminded that the PML-N is not in a position to annoy any of its coalition partners. In contrast, all of the parties in the rainbow coalition will have to jointly face the wrath of PTI inside and outside the parliament.