Ending months of bickering, Pakistan’s ruling coalition announced on Thursday that it would impeach President Pervez Musharraf and reinstate judges dismissed by him, moves that could throw the troubled nation into greater turmoil.
“This is good news for the future of democracy in Pakistan,” said Asif Ali Zardari, co-chairman of the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party, at a crowded press conference in Islamabad with Pakistan Muslim League (N) leader Nawaz Sharif.
Impeachment requires a two-thirds combined majority in the lower and upper houses of Parliament. If Parliament does impeach the president, it will be a first for Pakistan. August 11 is being mentioned as a possible date for impeachment.
Sensing trouble, Musharraf chose not to fly to Beijing for the opening ceremony of the Olympics. Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani will now represent Pakistan. It’s unlikely that the former general will give up without fighting the impeachment move.
“President Musharraf did not seek a vote of confidence from the incoming Parliament as he had committed at the time of his re-election, he did not address Parliament as required of the president and he had said that he would resign if those he did not agree with were elected to power but did not do so,” Zardari said.
The PPP chairman said that it has also been decided to restore the judges sacked through extra-constitutional means by Musharraf, as agreed in the Murree declaration. Parliament would also repeal the 17th amendment under which a president can sack an elected government.
Sharif, on his part, said it would be unwise of Musharraf to sack the elected government prior to his being impeached. “This is not the situation that was prevailing in the past decade. We have a free media and a free society and we will fight any such move,” he said.
In the past, the president, who is empowered to dismiss an elected government, has acted only with the blessings and support of the army chief. Here, the role of chief of army staff General Ashaq Parvez Kayani could well become critical.
Sharif and Zardari both sounded upbeat and said nothing could come in the way of the impeachment of Musharraf. The PPP boss was evasive when asked whether he had the numbers needed to impeach the president. “We have faith in the people and in Parliament,” he said.
Though the ruling coalition is 16 votes short of a two-thirds majority in a joint session of Parliament, they seem confident of winning the vote. They need 295 votes out of the 442 — the combined strength of the National Assembly and the Senate — to impeach the president.