Pakistan coalition partners thrash out PM choice

Pakistan's two biggest opposition parties sought to thrash out their choice for premier Friday after agreeing to form a coalition government that could drive President Pervez Musharraf from power.

Pakistan coalition partners thrash out PM choice
Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and the widowed husband of slain opposition leader Benazir Bhutto said their parties, once bitter rivals, would join forces after trouncing Musharraf's allies in elections this week.

Officials from both parties said the frontrunner to be prime minister was Makhdoom Amin Fahim, the widely respected vice president of Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party (PPP).

A senior PPP official said Bhutto's widower, Asif Ali Zardari, and Sharif "discussed the name of Makhdoom Amin Fahim as the future premier" during their meeting late Thursday.

A decision, however, had not yet been taken on Friday.

"It is not expected today," a PPP official told AFP.

The proposed alliance between the parties brings them nearer the two-thirds majority they would need to seek Musharraf's impeachment, leaving the US ally in the most precarious position since he seized power in a 1999 coup, analysts say.

Musharraf vowed in an opinion article for the Washington Post to work with the new parliament to tackle the three key tasks he said were facing Pakistan: defeating "terrorism"; forging a stable government; and creating the foundation for sustained economic growth.

"Because these goals are shared by the vast majority of Pakistanis, I am certain we can and will accomplish them, and I stand ready to work with the newly elected parliament to achieve these objectives," he wrote.

All the PPP's members of parliament were gathering Friday in Islamabad to discuss the agreement between Zardari and Sharif, party spokesman Farhatullah Babar said.

Neither Zardari nor Sharif are immediately eligible to be premier because they are not MPs -- Sharif was barred from standing, and Bhutto's husband did not do so because his wife was still alive when nomination papers were filed.

Bhutto, whose party will be the biggest in parliament following the general election Monday, was assassinated in a suicide attack at a political rally in December.

Either of the men could still contest upcoming by-elections for seats left vacant by candidates who stood -- and won -- in two constituencies at the same time.

Fahim stood against Musharraf in October's presidential election but later withdrew, protesting that Musharraf was not eligible to contest because he was still army chief at the time.

Political columnist Irfan Hussain said Fahim "would be the consensus choice" for the short-term, although in a few months Zardari could stand in a by-election.

Musharraf resigned as head of the military in November after winning a second five-year term as president.

Another name under consideration to be PM is senior PPP member Shah Mehmood Qureshi, the official said.

But questions remain over whether their coalition will press for the former general's immediate ouster from office, and whether they will seek to restore Pakistan's deposed chief justice.

"The people gave a clear verdict on February 18, which shows that they do not want Musharraf," Sharif said on Friday, but he skirted round the issue of whether the coalition would go for impeachment.

The PPP's Babar said the matter "will be taken up by the next parliament. It is premature to talk about it now."

The announcement by Zardari and Sharif of a coalition came after analysts said Musharraf could try to get Zardari to form a coalition with his allies.

Sharif said on Thursday that they had overcome differences over his demands for the immediate restoration of chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, who was sacked by Musharraf in November, and would work on it in parliament.

"I think they are now pretty much in agreement that the parliament will probably move an immediate resolution to restore the chief justice," Hussain said.

If Chaudhry, who remains under house arrest, gets his job back, he could overturn Musharraf's controversial presidential election victory and oust him from office.

Agencies
Güncelleme Tarihi: 22 Şubat 2008, 18:19
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