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Opposition puts Musharraf on notice

Pakistani opposition parties which inflicted a crushing defeat on President Pervez Musharraf’s allies in last week’s election vow to banish the military from politics.

world Updated: Feb 28, 2008 04:27 IST

Pakistani opposition parties which inflicted a crushing defeat on President Pervez Musharraf’s allies in last week’s election vowed on Wednesday to banish the military from politics.

At a show of strength gathering attended by 171 National Assembly members-elect, they also called on Musharraf to immediately summon parliament so they can show they have the majority needed to choose the next Prime Minister.

Musharraf seized power as a general in 1999 but stepped down as chief of the powerful army in November before becoming a civilian ruler of a country which the military has ruled for more than half of its 60 years of existence.

While Musharraf did not take part in the February 18 parliamentary polls, the main party that backs him suffered heavy losses, largely because of the President’s unpopularity and anger over rising prices and food shortages.

The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) of assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto won the most seats but not enough to form a government on its own.

The Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) of another former Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, came second and the two parties are in talks, along with a smaller third group, on a coalition government that could force Musharraf from power.

Asif Ali Zardari, Bhutto’s widower who now leads the PPP, said the opposition should work together to end the supremacy of the military-led establishment.

“I think the homage to my... wife would be that we unite together, we take democracy, we take power for parliament and once and for all, finish the establishment,” Zardari told the meeting.

Bhutto was assassinated on December 27 in a gun and bomb attack blamed on Al Qaeda-linked militants.

Sharif assured Zardari that his party would extend full support to him, although he did not say his party would accept cabinet posts. Some senior officials in Sharif’s party have said it might support the PPP, but not serve in the government.

“We must see that we have a long-lasting democracy in this country and abandon the role of the army and the military in the politics of Pakistan forever,” Sharif said.

“This is what we should be striving for.”

Zardari did not mention Musharraf, but Sharif said the people had sent him a message on election day.

“It should be amply clear to him that the nation has given its verdict against dictatorship,” Sharif said.

Musharraf has rejected opposition calls to resign and has said he was ready to work with whoever becomes Prime Minister.

Confrontation between the President and a hostile parliament in Pakistan could prolong instability, which allies fear could distract attention from the battle against rising militant violence.

Sharif said the opposition parties would end up with two-thirds of National Assembly seats and he called on Musharraf to call the session as soon as the Election Commission issues official results. It is expected to declare results by Saturday.