All the nine Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz ministers on Tuesday quit the six-week-old Pakistan government over the issue of restoration of deposed judges, pushing the country into a fresh phase of political uncertainty.
The Pakistan People's Party, heading the coalition, decided to keep the ministerial portfolios, except for Finance, vacant hoping to bring around Nawaz Sharif's party which pulled out its ministers after the deadline for reinstating the judges sacked by President Pervez Musharraf expired on Monday.
The ministers drove to Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani's House a little after 1 pm and submitted their resignation letters to him.
Most of them had given up their official security and other protocol arrangements on Monday.
Before calling on Gilani, the PML-N ministers held a meeting in Parliament lodges to finalise their strategy and also consulted party chief Sharif over phone, sources said.
The PML-N has decided to withdraw its ministers, but Sharif said his party would continue to give issue-based support to the PPP-led government.
The ministers told Gillani, who belongs to the PPP, that their participation in the Cabinet was strictly linked to the reinstatement of the judges within 30 days of the government being formed, sources said.
After this initial deadline expired on April 30, an extension was made till May 12. After this second deadline also expired, the PML-N ministers had no option but to tender their resignations, the sources quoted them as telling Gillani.
However, there were reports that PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari, who is currently abroad, had directed Gillani not to accept the resignations as it is being anticipated that the PML-N could rejoin the coalition in future.
Zardari has said the PPP will continue talks with the PML-N to get it to reverse its decision to quit the Cabinet.
He also said that except for the crucial financial portfolio, the other cabinet slots vacated by the PML-N will remain vacant and that he would wait for "Nawaz Sharif to come back."
The PML-N leaders who submitted their resignations on Tuesday are Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, who was senior minister with charge of communications and food and agriculture, Ishaq Dar (finance), Khwaja Asif (petroleum and natural resources and sports), Shahid Khaqan Abbasi (trade), Rana Tanvir Hussain (defence production), Ahsan Iqbal (education and minority affairs), Tehmina Daultana (women's welfare development and culture), Mehtab Abbasi (railways), and Saad Rafique (youth affairs and science and technology).
The PPP has decided to nominate a new finance minister to keep on track the crucial exercise of presenting the budget next month.
Zardari said the name of the new finance minister would be announced on Tuesday by the prime minister.
Zardari has also convened a meeting of his party's parliamentarians and legislators on Wednesday to take stock of the political situation after the PML-N's decision to withdraw from the ruling coalition.
A statement issued by the PPP on Tuesday said a joint meeting of the party's parliamentarians, senators, legislators from Punjab province and members of the central executive committee and federal council from Punjab will he held in Zardari House in Islamabad on Wednesday evening.
Zardari, who is set to return to Pakistan later on Tuesday, will preside over the meeting to "take stock of the latest political situation in the country," the statement said.
The PPP has said the PML-N's withdrawal from the Cabinet was not "the beginning of the end for the coalition."