Musharraf asked to step down


Islamabad : Pakistan’s second-largest coalition party Sunday asked President Pervez Musharraf to resign forthwith as the days of his defeated political allies seem to be numbered.

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“Today, the dictatorship of Musharraf is taking its last breath,” said Shahbaz Sharif, who heads the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), in the city of Lahore soon after being elected unopposed as chief minister of the eastern Punjab province.

Sharif was serving as Punjab chief minister when Musharraf toppled the government of his brother Nawaz Sharif in 1999. The two brothers were sent into exile to Saudi Arabia in 2000, only to return last year when Musharraf faced great pressure to allow Pakistan’s popular leadership to take part in general elections.

“I will request Musharraf to step down immediately in the larger interest of Pakistan, so that the (new) government could function,” said Sharif, as his supporters chanted slogans of “Go, Musharraf Go”.

The renewed calls by the ruling party leader came a day after the embattled president said he had no plans to resign now, and invited his opponents to remove him through impeachment in the parliament.

The open challenge provoked the governing coalition led by slain former prime minister Benazir Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) to take a stricter stance on the future of Musharraf, who was braving calls to step down since he lost his political support in the Feb 18 vote.

The PPP, in a statement, said it would go ahead with the proposed constitutional reforms package to curb presidential powers and could also send him home democratically.

“The parliament, as representing the will of the people, was sovereign that could make or amend laws and the constitution regardless of whether Musharraf liked or not,” it said.

Musharraf at present has the authority to dismiss the government, but he said Saturday that “only an unstable man would do this”.

However, interpreting the president’s remarks that he would “not sit idle” as a note of caution about a possible showdown, the PPP said: “Such hollow warnings would not deter the democratic forces from restoring the powers of the parliament.”

The PPP, which is now led by Bhutto’s widower Asif Zardari, and the PML-N claim to have the required two-thirds majority in both houses of the parliament to impeach the president and curtail his power.

Though the PPP intends to make Musharraf walk away by creating a situation unacceptable to him, the PML-N appears determined to put the president in the dock.

“We are constantly urging our coalition partners to make an early move to oust Musharraf whose presence … is disaster for the democratic order,” PML-N spokesman Ahsan Iqbal was quoted as saying by the English-language Dawn newspaper.

Musharraf saw a plunge in his popularity after he suspended the country’s independent-minded top judge Iftikhar Chaudhry in March 2007 over charges of abuse of authority.

Chaudhry was reinstated after four months, but he was again sacked when Musharraf proclaimed emergency rule Nov 3 last year, reportedly to avoid a Supreme Court decision against his controversial re-election for another five-year term.