After an aide to Nawaz Sharif (photo), the leader of the PML-N party in the government, said that it was prepared to pull out, Pakistan’s coalition government is under pressure to settle its dispute over reinstating the judges that have been sacked by Pervez Musharraf, the country’s former president who quit last week.
In order to decide whether to join the opposition amid growing differences with the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), the PML-N party leaders would meet on Monday, said Pervez Rasheed, a close aide of the former prime minister.
“General opinion in the party is in favour of parting ways”, Mr Rasheed told The Associated Press news agency on Sunday.
Nawaz Sharif has demanded that the PPP agree to reinstate on Monday the 60 judges sacked, in order to remain united for presidential elections to be held on September 6.
But on that issue, the PPP, under Asif Ali Zardari, widow of Benazir Bhutto, former prime minister assassinated last December, has been stalling. On Saturday, Mr Zardari confirmed that he would bid to replace Pervez Musharraf, and Mr Sharif has been asked to support his nomination. But he has made this conditional on the return of the judges and the PPP leader agreeing to limit the powers of the presidency.
He says that Zardari has reneged on a written agreement to restore the judges within 24 hours of Musharraf’s decision on August 18 to quit rather than face impeachment charges.
Siddiqul Farooq, a spokesman for the PML-N, reiterated his leader’s demands and added that the issue of whether Zardari would stand for the presidency was the PPP’s “own decision”, not that of the coalition partners.
“We do not want a civilian president with the same powers that Musharraf had, mainly the power to dissolve parliament”, Mr Farooq said.
“Our top priority is restoration of the judges and we want it done on Monday.”
Concerns that the deposed chief justice might take up challenges to an amnesty from corruption charges granted last year to Mr Zardari and other party leaders makes the PPP reluctant to restore the judges, say analysts.
On saturday, a sign that relations between the two sides were becoming increasing fractured came from another of Sharif’s aides, who offered to stand for the presidency in opposition to Mr Zardari.
“I am also willing to contest the presidential election, but I am bound to obey what the party decides”, said Javed Hashmi, one of Sharif’s most senior aides.
Nomination papers for the presidency can be filed from August 26, with the final date for any withdrawals on August 30, said Kanwar Dilshad, the election commission secretary.
Under Pakistan’s constitution, a president is elected within 30 days of the post becoming vacant, by members of the country’s four provincial assemblies and the national parliament.
Because of the political deadlock, it is getting more and more difficult for the government to tackle economic problems in the country, unrest in the tribal areas and the growing strength of armed pro-Taliban groups.
The security situation in Pakistan has prompted the International Cricket Council (ICC) to postpone the champions trophy tournament due to take place next month, until an undisclosed time in 2009
The move comes after South Africa pulled out of the tournament on Friday and because several other countries were also said to be considering withdrawing.