Pakistan opposition parties form coalition

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Nawaz Sharif, leader of the Pakistan Muslim League (N) and former Prime Minister.

Pakistan's two major opposition parties, the Pakistan Peoples Party and the Pakistan Muslim League (N), have announced they will work together to form a new government after defeating allies of President Pervez Musharraf in Monday's parliamentary elections.

The leaders of the two parties, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of the Pakistan Muslim League, and Benazir Bhutto's husband Asif Ali Zardari of the PPP, made the announcement today at a joint press conference. "We have agreed on a common agenda. We will work together to form a government together," said Sharif. A smaller opposition party, the Awami National Party, will also be helping the new government, according to the party leaders.

"The future of democracy is within our grasp," Zardari said. "We will strengthen the parliament, we will strengthen democracy, we will work together for Pakistan. We will make a stronger Pakistan."

Zadari says the parties have agreed "in principle" to join together, although details of the agreement have not yet been finalized and remain unclear. "Governance is a serious business," Zadari said, "and everything cannot be decided at a two-hour meeting. We will be meeting again off and on."

The two leaders did not mention any plans to impeach Musharraf from office, which would require a two-thirds majority in Parliament. But Zadari seemed to indicate that "pro-Musharraf forces" would not be included in the coalition. "I don't believe pro-Musharraf forces exist," he said.

One thing the parties have already agreed on is the reinstatement of judges fired by Musharraf during the state of emergency last November. "In principle there's no disagreement on restoration of the judiciary. We will work on the modalities in parliament," said Sharif.

One of the displaced judges is Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudary, who remains under house arrest in Islamabad. Pakistani lawyers protested his arrest in the capital and other major cities. Through smuggled cell phones, Chaudary spoke to the protesters, telling them, "Victory is not far off now." Police threw tear gas at the protesters, some of whom were hurling stones and burning effigies of the president.

The Pakistan Peoples Party won 88 seats and the Pakistan Muslim League (N) won 66 in the 272-member National Assembly. The pro-Musharraf Pakistan Muslim League only won 40 seats, thus losing their majority in Parliament.

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