LAHORE Continuation of the present setup with the support of the remaining allies of the PPP, including the MQM, or some new ones as the PML-Q, the change of government on account of the PPPs failure to maintain its majority in the National Assembly, or fresh elections are the three possible scenarios the country may have to wade through after the JUI (F)s decision to quit the coalition- and insistence to stick to it.
Each option has its own pros and cons and political parties on both sides of the divide are trying to exploit the situation to their benefit.
And at a time when expediency is preferred to principles and when parties take decisions on instructions coming from somewhere else, it is hard to say whether the ruling party will succeed in keeping its remaining supporters with it.
Contacts are being made by the PPP leaders with the 'estranged friends to woo them back to the coalitions fold, but so far, it has received no positive response.
The PML-Q and the MQM are in a position to play a decisive role about the fate of the ruling PPP.
The PML-Q, with over 50 seats in the National Assembly, can help the government (which has only 125 seats of its own in a house of 342) stay afloat even if all other allies of the PPP say goodbye.
But the PML-Qs support will be available only against a very heavy political price, and that too if the party agrees to lend support.
There are differences in the PML-Q on whether it should join hands with the PPP at all.
Some senior leaders are of the view that cooperation with the PPP will be bad bargain in the long run.
If the remaining allies part ways with the PPP and the PML-Q also doesnt join hands, the prime minister will lose majority in the National Assembly.
However, the president can give him a breathing space by not calling upon him to prove his majority, which is a constitutional requirement in such situations.
The opponents, in such an eventuality, will have to move courts which will be a lengthy process.
In case the government falls, the opposition parties can bring in their own prime minister but it will be possible only if they all stay united.
And unity among so many parties and groups of diverse opinions is just not possible.
The PML-N is not interested in playing any role in the ouster of Prime Minister Gilani, with whom the leadership has far better relations than with President Zardari.
Knowledgeable people in the party think that there will be no change at the Centre or in Punjab, and thus the party will continue to work as usual.
As for the option of fresh elections, most of the parties are opposed to it in view of the prevailing situation, no matter what their public pronouncements.
The key for exercising this option lies with the prime minister.
Under the Constitution, its the prime minister who can advise the president to dissolve the National Assembly.
The president is bound to act on the advice within 48 hours, or the house will stand dissolved automatically thereafter.
But then under the amended Constitution, it is for the president to set a date for the new polls which should not be later than 90 days of the dissolution of the National Assembly - and set up a caretaker cabinet.
The president can appoint anybody of his choice in the caretaker setup.
And history bears testimony that the caretaker governments have been influencing the election results.
Suppose the elections are held and a party other than the PPP wins majority seats, the new setup will have to work with the incumbent president till he serves out his term, or is removed through impeachment, which is quite difficult as two thirds majority of the National Assembly and the Senate is required for the purpose.
Many say that the present situation is not conducive for fresh elections because millions of flood-victims will not be able to take part in the process as they are still busy trying to find shelters for theirs families.
Others say that when even local elections cannot be held, how can the general elections be possible.
The situation will become clear in the near future.

This news was published in The Nation newspaper. Read complete newspaper of 16-Dec-2010 here.