Pakistan’s five-month-old ruling coalition suffered a major blow on Monday as former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif withdrew support for the PPP-led government and named a jurist to contest against PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari in the presidential elections.
Sharif’s move was provoked by Zardari’s disregard of the promises he made for restoring judges dismissed by Pervez Musharraf last year.
The Pakistan Muslim League (PML) pull-out poses no imminent threat to the Yusuf Raza Gilani regime that has a simple majority in the 342-strong National Assembly after counting the Muttahida Quami Movement’s (MQM) 25 legislators.
The MQM shares power with the PPP in Sindh. Its exiled leader Altaf Hussain was the first to propose Zardari’s name for the presidency. Conscious of his erstwhile partner’s legislative base, Sharif said his party wouldn’t engage in any toppling game and play the role of a “constructive” Opposition.
“We were forced to take this unfortunate step,” the PML leader remarked, sharing details with the media of his written agreements with Zardari for bringing back the 60-odd judges Musharraf “sacked and placed under house arrest with their families.” Of these, thirteen belonged to the Supreme Court, including then Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, now an iconic figure in the legal fraternity’s movement for the judiciary’s independence. The PML-PPP split is likely to fuel the self-propelled lawyers’ stir — the next phase of which is planned for August 26 when the black-coats will take to the streets across Pakistan.
Sharif said he walked out of the coalition for the very reasons that made him join hands with the PPP to fight the dictator — restoration of democracy, the constitution and the rule of law. “No coalition can be run without trust and on broken promises,” he said, waiving before a battery of cameramen the August 9 signed agreement in which Zardari promised to restore the judges within 24 hours of Musharraf’s impeachment or resignation that came about on August 18.
For his part, the PPP leader — who sought more time for delivering on his assurances — has argued that no political accord could be treated as unalterable like the Holy Quran or the Hadith (the Prophet’s sayings). Observers here felt his stance, regardless of the unmentionable compulsions emanating from external forces, could hurt the PPP’s popular base in an essentially feudal society where “a word given, is a word kept.”
That Sharif wasn’t about to let the judges issue die down was obvious from his presidential challenge to Zardari — former Supreme Court Chief Justice Saeeduzzam Siddiqui who resigned rather than take dictation from Musharraf within a year of the latter’s 1999 military takeover.
The other Muslim League faction — PML-Q’s candidature of journalist-politician Mushahid Hussain has made the presidential contest triangular. But not tougher for Zardari.