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Gilani invites PML-N to rejoin his government


Islamabad : Efforts to persuade opposition leader Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML) to rejoin the federal cabinet received a major boost Wednesday with Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani formally inviting the party to return.

Gilani extended the invitation during a meeting here with Sharif’s younger brother Shahbaz Sharif, who on Monday was restored as the chief minister of the Punjab province.

“It has been reliably learnt that Prime Minister Gilani invited the Pakistan Muslim League-N to rejoin the federal cabinet,” Geo TV reported.

“Shahbaz said the PML-N will extend its full cooperation to strengthen the democratic process and steer the country out of all crises,” the channel added.

On his part, Nawaz Sharif has already said he is ready to work with the government – but that he hoped to become the prime minister after the next general elections that are due in 2013.

In an interview with Wall Street Journal published Monday, Sharif said “We are ready to establish a working relationship with the government” and expressed his desire to eschew politics of confrontation.

But he quickly added: “I want the present government to complete its term.”

Gilani’s Pakistan Peoples Party and the PML-N, along with two smaller parties, had formed a coalition after their one-two finish in the February 2008 general elections.

The PML-N, however, walked out after PPP co-chair and now Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari backtracked on two key pledges made in the governance agenda that had been agreed to before the elections.

These included the reinstatement of the Supreme Court and high court judges then president Pervez Musharraf had sacked after declaring an emergency Nov 3, 2007 and the repeal of the controversial 17th amendment that greatly diluted the powers of the prime minister.

Tension between the two parties reached flash point in February when the Supreme Court cited corruption charges to bar the Sharif brothers from contesting elections and holding public office.

Shahbaz Sharif then lost his job and his elder brother jumped onto the bandwagon of a lawyers agitation for the restoration of the sacked judges to protest the court verdict.

Nawaz Sharif led a highly emotive lawyers’ “long march” to Islamabad last month and the government acceded to their demand at the last minute. For good measure, it also announced that the court verdict would be appealed.

The judges were reinstated March 22 and the Supreme Court stayed its verdict on the Sharif brothers Monday, paving the way for Shahbaz Sharif’s return as the Punjab chief minister.

As for the 17th amendment, Zadari said during his address to a joint session of parliament Saturday that a committee would be formed to work out the modalities for this.

With these contentious issues now out of the way, the stage seems set for the PML-N’s return to the federal government.