PRESIDENT Asif Ali Zardari's attempt at achieving reconciliation with the PML(N) failed to cool the tempers which had flared after the removal of Mian Shahbaz Sharif as the Punjab CM following the court verdict unseating him from the membership of the provincial legislature. The National Assembly session convened on Sunday to discuss the situation arisen as a result of the disqualification of the Sharif brothers and the imposition of Governor's Rule in the province, witnessed some rowdy scenes with members of the two mainstream parties trading allegations against each other. Ch Nisar Ali Khan launched a bitter offensive against the PPP leadership, saying that his party was ready to cooperate with the federal government but not at the expense of the murder of the Punjab Assembly. It was the lengthiest speech by any parliamentarian, reminiscent of the late PPP Chairperson Benazir Bhutto's address to the House as opposition leader during the second Nawaz government. Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani meanwhile played it cool. His speech contained no defence of President Zardari or his loyalists who were earlier subjected to scathing criticism. The PM instead announced that the PPP would sit on the opposition benches if it failed to form its government in the Punjab. It was good to hear from him that there would be no horsetrading to deprive the PML(N) of an opportunity to form its government in place of the one dissolved in the sequel to a court ruling. But he sidestepped the real issue that needed elaboration: the numbers game. The PPP, with 107 MPAs in a 372-member House, has little chance of forming a coalition with the PML(Q) as long as its Forward Bloc is committed to the PML(N). After the Sharif brothers managed to gather 209 MPAs at their Raiwind Estate, there would not be many to get carried away by former Punjab Senior Minister Raja Riaz's misleading claim that the PPP still has the support of 250 legislators. The fact remains that the fate of the provincial legislature hinges on the success or the failure of the PPP leadership's attempt at creating defections in the PML(N). If Federal Minister Babar Awan's observation that President Zardari is ready for talks with the PML(N) leadership is to be believed, then the process needs to be initiated sooner rather than later. It is time to cool tempers before the crisis exacerbates, with the opposition parties throwing their weight behind the lawyers' long march due to commence on this 12th. It bears repeating that the onus of retrieving the country edging towards an abyss is on President Zardari.