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Pakistan

Pakistan on brink of political crisis after party defection

Millions of Pakistanis were displaced by floods in 2010
Millions of Pakistanis were displaced by floods in 2010 Reuters/Adrees Latif

Pakistan’s government was thrown into crisis on Monday when the ruling government lost the support of a key coalition party. The announcement that the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) will go into opposition fractures a political environment whose stability is vital for neighbouring Afghanistan, as well for its own increasingly discontented domestic populace.

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The consequences for the ruling Pakistan People’s Party could be immediate. Early elections may be called and a no-confidence vote could be forced upon Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani.

“This is a long-simmering dispute that has come to a boil,” said RFI correspondent Omar Weraitch, in Islamabad.

Weraitch said that the two parties have had a fractious relationship for some time, with policy differences on subjects such as amnesty for corrupt politicians, aid from the United States and tax reform.

The pullout is the latest blow to President Asif Ali Zardari, whose popularity was badly damaged by anger over the government's response to devastating floods last year.

While millions of people were displaced and the economy took an estimated $10 billion hit, the president was spotted vacationing at his French chateau.

The political paralysis makes it less likely that the country can tackle an array of problems, such as corruption, rising fuel prices, the increasing sway of the Taliban and controversial International Monetary Fund reforms related to an $11 billion loan in 2008.

The pullout follows the exit of the pro-Taliban Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Islam religious party, which was upset by Gilani’s decision to fire one of its ministers.

The United States has been pressing Pakistan to cooperate more fully in the war in Afghanistan and to increase their opposition to the Taliban.

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