LAHORE/KARACHI/ISLAMABAD - Though the Prime Minister Imran Khan is exploring all available options to keep the coalition government intact and is confident to emerge successful, yet the ruling PTI is feeling pressure from within and allied political parties.

Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani yesterday held talks with the MQM-P leadership at the party’s headquarters in Karachi in an attempt to address their reservations. On the occasion, Sanjrani expressed his party’s full support for MQM-P on issues of national interest and urged Dr. Khalid Maqbool Siddique to revisit his resignation decision and rejoin the federal coalition government.

However, on the other hand, PML-Q leadership the same day declined to hold any further talks with the PTI government till the implementation on the previously agreed points.

Moreover, serious differences within the PTI ranks have now bubbled up over the proposed increase in salaries of the parliamentarians as National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaider and some other party ministers are opposition the parliamentarians’ salary increase bill proposed by PTI’s chief whip in the Senate, Sajjad Hussain Turi.

PML-Q chief Ch. Shujaat Hussain, after chairing an emergency meeting of his party in Lahore, declared that no further talks with the government until the agreed formula is implemented.

“We want implementation on the already settled matters first before taking up any new issues with the government,” he made it clear.

The development comes as a severe snub to the new negotiations team announced by the prime minister on Thursday last. It comprises Governor Ch Sarwar, Chief Minister Usman Buzdar and Federal Minister Shafqat Mahmood. 

According to a statement issued by party’s media wing, the meeting discussed issues relating to constitution of new negotiation teams by the government, latest statements by prime minister and members of government on the coalition matters.

“All leaders agreed on the point that PTI leadership should be made to realize that once political issues are settled, the subsequent change of mind creates misunderstandings”, said the statement.

Speaker Punjab Assembly Ch Parvez Elahi, Senator Kamil Ali Agha, MNAs, Moonis Elahi and Hussain Elahi attended the meeting among others. 

The party release also quoted Ch Shujat has having said that all issues [between the coalition partners] have previous been settled with due process of consultation from both the sides.

“Now, we want the government to implement the already agreed points first before resumption of new talks”, he observed and added: “Change is a good thing but repeated change is a not a good tradition”. 

Giving background of the negotiations with the government, Ch Shujat told the party leaders that the government announced its first negotiations team but none of its decisions was implemented. “Then came a second committee and issues were settled with it, but this body has also been dissolved to make a third committee”, Shujat further informed the party men.

The participants of the meeting noted with concern that the PML-Q and the PTI reached an agreement before the 2018 elections but the government had not implemented it as yet.

Addressing the meeting, Ch Shujat said that PML-Q had been extending its cooperation to the government in the best national interest, but some of the PTI ministers and notables were creating misunderstandings between them and the prime minister to advance their personal agenda. “We are more concerned about the national interest and the rights of the people than seeking ministries. And, we are entirely focused on these issues. We have always taken decisions keeping in view the people’s problems and the national interest and we stood by this principle all the way through”, Shujat further observed. 

He said his party had decided to support the PTI government after taking into account country’s internal problems and the emergency situation on its borders.

“We have ruled with two-third majority in the past but we would always try to run the government affairs with consensus. We don’t want to have ministries as stated by some notables in the government”, said the party communiqué.

The meeting also discussed the Punjab governor’s statement lauding Ch Shujat Hussain and Ch Parvez Elahi for their “mature talk” that all will suffer if the coalition breaks. 

Meanwhile, Punjab Governor Ch Mohammad Sarwar, while talking to media at the Governor’s House, expressed the hope that issues with the PML-Q would be sorted out soon.

“We also want coalition with PMLQ to continue even in the local government polls as well as next general election”, he said.

Ch Sarwar is part of the new negotiations team formed by the prime minister.

The governor stated that he was in unison with Ch Shujat Hussain and Ch Parvez Elahi that end of coalition will be equally harmful for the PTI and the Q-League.

“The PML-Q, the MQM, Baluchistan Awami Party and all other allies are with the government and none of them is talking of toppling the government. However difference of opinions is the beauty of politics and democracy”, he remarked. 

He said he would soon make a formal contact with PML-Q leadership and all their reservations will surely be removed. “It is not in Pakistan only that allied parties hold different opinions. It is a world-wide phenomenon”, he said, adding that lack of consensus [among coalition partners] did not mean infighting or end of the government.

“Prime Minister Imran Khan has made me governor while nominating Sardar Usman Buzdar and Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi as the chief minister and the Speaker respectively. Now, it is responsibility of all the three of us to sit together to sort out issues and discuss development and prosperity of the province in accordance with the vision of prime minister”, Ch Sarwar remarked.

To a question, Ch Sarwar said: ”We have to set aside what happened in the past and now we have to move ahead and I am sure the matters between Q-League and the government would be settled down”.

Sarwar admitted that there were issues of price-hike and good governance but the government under the leadership of Prime Minister Imran Khan was laying greater focus to overcome these problems.

During his meeting with the MQM-P leadership in Karachi, Chairman Senate Sadiq Sajrani termed the MQM-P as a key stakeholder in the political scenario of the country and said that the MQM-P has always raised its voice for the suppressed people of the society and they welcome the party’s support for the Balchistan province.

The chairman, whose party Balochistan Awami Party (BAP), is also in alliance with the PTI-led federal government, also asked the MQM-P convener Dr Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui to reconsider his party’s decision of quitting the federal cabinet.

“I am here to remind Khalid Maqbool that we stand alongside them and for the sake of country’s progress and service to his constituents he should reconsider to join the cabinet again,” he said.

Speaking on the occasion, Dr. Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui said that they want a Pakistan where all people are treated equally.

MQM-P’s Convenor Khalid Maqbool Sidiqui thanked Sanjrani for listening to their grievances with assurance of their resolution at the earliest.

“MQM became an ally to government for resolution of the problems facing the general public, especially in Karachi, not for getting Ministries,” he remarked.

He assured the Senate Chairman that like in the past, his party would continue supporting Balochistan on every genuine and important issue.

Meanwhile, in another development, serious differences have bubbled up now over the proposed increase in salaries of the parliamentarians.

Prime Minister Khan had constituted three liaison committees headed by the Defence Minister Pervaiz Khattak to engage the PTI’s coalition partners in order to resolve their reservations.

However, taking a lead yesterday, PTI’s chief whip in the Senate, Sajjad Hussain Turi who is one of the proposers of the bill has warned that proposed bill will stand scarped if members of the upper house failed to evolve consensus. 

Senator Turi, elected as an independent candidate and later appointed as PTI’s chief whip, is struggling to table the bill in the Senate today (Monday) and said those opposing the move are just propagating now about numbers to push through the bill.

He asserted that there is a need to increase the salaries adding that except the PPP all the parties in the 104 members Senate had agreed over the proposed bill during the meeting of the House Advisory Committee.

However, he warned that the proposed will be scrapped if all the parties failed to reach consensus.

On the other hand, Speaker of the National Assembly Asad Qaiser, and some PTI ministers are opposing the proposed bill as unreasonable on the pretext that the country had not come out of the economic crisis yet.

Opposing the proposed bill, he said a raise in lawmakers’ salaries at this point would put an unnecessary burden on the treasury.

“Any suggestion to increase lawmakers’ salaries should only be made once the treasury is able to withstand the additional burden,” he emphasised.

Meanwhile, Federal Minister for Planning, Development and Reforms Asad Umar has said that he hoped that media reports regarding the bill were untrue.

“In these circumstances, it is not at all reasonable that the country’s representatives receive an increase in their concessions and if there is a margin in the treasury, it should be used to reduce the burden on the people”, he said in tweet on Sunday.

Umar’s comments had come a day after Leader of the House in the Senate Syed Shibli Faraz had said he would openly support the bill.

Leader of the House in the Senate Faraz had pointed out that the salaries of lawmakers from Balochistan were almost three times higher than those of the members of the two houses of Parliament.

He said he knew many colleagues in the Parliament whose only source of income was their salary and they found it difficult to make both ends meet. “There is no need to be apologetic,” he said.

In a related development, PPP Senator Sherry Rehman categorically stated that her party would not support the bill.

In her tweet she said: “This is a time of great economic crisis for the people of Pakistan and not the time to for us to start matching our salaries with the region or others. Public money needs to be spent on public relief right now.”

The parliamentary leader of the PML-N in the Senate Mushahidullah Khan while supporting the proposed bill said the salaries of all the public office holders needed to be rationalised. But, he added that the salary structure had to be based on some principle.

Senators Naseebullah Bazai, Sajjad Hussain Turi, Sardar Mohammad Yaqoob Khan Nasir, Dilawar Khan, Dr Ashok Kumar and Shamim Afridi were in contact with other members of the House till the fling of this report to table the draft Salaries and Allowances Amendment Bill in the House when it meets on Monday.

The bill seeks an increase in the salaries of Senate chairman and National Assembly speaker from Rs225,000 to Rs879,000 to match the salaries of Supreme Court judges and a rise in the remuneration of the Senate deputy chairman and National Assembly deputy speaker to match those of high court judges.

The bill further seeks to increase the salaries of parliament members from Rs150,000 to Rs300,000. It also calls for the travel allowance of parliamentarians to be increased to cover the cost of business class air tickets and AC class train tickets.

The draft bill also seeks 25 business class tickets to be allocated for each lawmaker and for the option of these tickets being used by the members’ spouses and children to travel within the country to be available.