Pakistan’s ruling coalition plunged into another crisis on Saturday with Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League predicating its support for Asif Zadari’s presidential ambitions on the dismissed judges’ restoration and abrogation of the sweeping powers vested in the Presidency.
The PPP responded to the PML’s challenge by formally announcing Zardari’s candidature in Islamabad late in the night. And the PPP has the numbers to get Zardari elected. Independent observers interpreted the developments as the beginning of the end of the PPP-PML entente despite the PPP’s public stance that the coalition will last.
The gravity of the situation can be assessed in conjunction with Zardari’s comments to another coalition partner, the JUI’s Fazlur Rahman that he needed more time to settle the judges’ issue. According to him, certain forces (read the Army or the US) that helped in Musharraf’s ouster weren’t agreeable yet on restoring the dismissed judiciary.
Sharif’s conveyed his latest stand to Zardari’s emissaries at his Raiwind farmhouse near here. He said the PPP was within its right to give a candidate for the presidency. But his party was of the considered view that either the President’s powers — including dissolution of assemblies and appointment of services chiefs — be undone or a non-political person be elected to the high office.
Besides setting the tighter Monday deadline for the judges’ return, he argued the powers currently resting with the presidency belonged to the Prime Minister under the much-mauled 1973 version of the Constitution. “The PPP should respond to our demands by tonight. Or else we will be free to chart our own course,” warned Sharif after meeting the PPP delegation led by its leader in the Senate, Raza Rabbani. The visitors had sought his support for Zardari’s candidacy.
Nominations for the September 26 elections are to be filed on August 26 — a day before the ANP-JUI brokered deadline Sharif brought forward for the reappointment of the dismissed judges. From the PML leader’s comments, it was obvious the new time-frame he set was aimed at pre-empting Zardari’s candidature before the judges’ restoration. “The election commission’s poll schedule is premature,” he said.
Sharif also made light of Zardari’s references to “forces” opposing the judges’ restoration presumably on account of their pre-dismissal activism that hindered the war against terror. “Musharraf was forced out by the people of Pakistan. I am no wheeler-dealer and aren’t aware of any other force that caused his ouster,” he remarked.
The former Premier’s latest moves also seemed prompted by speculation of the PPP’s possible manipulation of the August 25-26 parliamentary debate to keep out former Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry. “The judges should be brought back on Monday after a short one-day discussion on the resolution,” he said.
For the sake of form, Sharif maintained that his was a principled opposition to the 17th amendment that made the President all powerful at the expense of Parliament and the Prime Minister. “Otherwise I have full faith in Zardari.”