Pakistan’s main opposition party demanded on Sunday that the President immediately relinquish much of his power amid calls for the unpopular leader to assume a ceremonial role or resign.
The political turmoil threatens to distract the US-allied country from its fight against the Taliban and al Qaida near the Afghan border.
President Asif Ali Zardari inherited sweeping presidential powers from his predecessor, General Pervez Musharraf. Zardari has promised to give them to the Prime Minister, but has been accused of foot-dragging by the opposition.
His position has been further weakened by the expiration of an amnesty protecting him and several key allies from graft prosecution, raising the possibility of legal challenges to his rule in the coming months.
Zardari has transferred command of the country’s nuclear arsenal to the Prime Minister and promised to surrender other key powers — chiefly the authority to fire an elected government and appoint military chiefs — by the end of the year.
Shahbaz Sharif, the brother of main opposition leader Nawaz Sharif and chief minister of Pakistan’s largest province, Punjab, said, “I would ask the President to immediately abolish the 17th amendment,” Sharif said in Lahore. “The nation would appreciate this act.”
A military coup to oust Zardari appears unlikely, as does impeachment, since he heads the largest party in Parliament.
Zardari is languishing in opinion polls just 15 months after taking office.