Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Power Struggle Rages in Pakistan

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Power Struggle Rages in Pakistan

Article excerpt

Hopes for much-needed political stability in Pakistan have crumbled along with its ruling coalition. Following Nawaz Sharif's exit from the government Monday, the political stage looks set to be dominated by a power struggle, which will draw attention away from antimilitant efforts and a faltering economy.

Only a week after it celebrated the resignation of former president Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's fractious coalition broke when former prime minister Mr. Sharif, leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), stormed out on the Pakistan People's Party (PPP). He blames his former coalition partner for repeatedly reneging on its promise to reinstate 60 judges suspended by Mr. Musharraf last year.

Sharif was also angered by an announcement that Asif Ali Zardari, chairman of the PPP and widower of its former leader, Benazir Bhutto, would stand for president. The coalition partners had agreed to back a nonpartisan candidate until the presidents' powers were constitutionally pared down.

Observers had hoped Mr. Zardari and Sharif, who represent different constituencies, would counterbalance each other. But Zardari looks set to grab as much power as he can while Sharif will seek to undermine him in opposition.

In the 1990s, Sharif and the PPP, under Ms. Bhutto, were bitter rivals and alternated terms in power. Many Pakistanis dread a return to the rancor and chaos of those days, which resulted, in 1999, in Musharraf's bloodless coup.

The split is unlikely to prompt early elections because the PPP, which holds the most seats in parliament, but not a majority, should be able to attract the support of smaller parties.

Instead, the rivalry between the two men is likely to be played out in presidential elections, scheduled for Sept. 6. In response to Zardari's nomination, Sharif has named his party's candidate: Saeed- uz-Zaman Siddiqui, a former chief justice.

Political pundits will also be keeping a close watch on the Punjab, Pakistan's biggest and most politically influential province. The PML-N has ruled the Punjab with the PPP, but without its support, it may be reduced to a minority.

Sharif will thus be looking to rally support, particularly among members of the PML-Quaid-e-Azam (PML-Q), which splintered from the PML-N after Sharif was ousted in 1999 and then backed Musharraf. …

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