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PML (N) not to join government

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FIRM STAND: The former Pakistani Premier, Nawaz Sharif (right), addresses a news conference as his brother Shahbaz Sharif looks on in Lahore on Tuesday.
FIRM STAND: The former Pakistani Premier, Nawaz Sharif (right), addresses a news conference as his brother Shahbaz Sharif looks on in Lahore on Tuesday.

Nirupama Subramanian

Rules out “indemnity” for General Musharraf

ISLAMABAD: Three victorious parties of the February 18 elections in Pakistan are set to congregate in the capital on Wednesday for a show of strength aimed at dispelling speculation that their apparently different political priorities will prevent them from forming a government.

It will be the first joint meeting of the “grand alliance” of the Pakistan People’s Party, Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) and the Awami National Party who have said they will join hands to form the next government after handsome victories in the February 18 elections.

On a day of fast-paced political developments, the PML(N) made it clear on Tuesday it would not join the government but would give outside support to the PPP.

Speaking in Lahore, PML (N) leader Nawaz Sharif said the meeting would show President Pervez Musharraf “that there is a near two-thirds majority sitting right there, and that the National Assembly must be summoned without delay.”

The PPP and PML (N) are attempting to add to their respective numbers in the National Assembly by wooing independents, who form a substantial chunk of 26 in Parliament.

In addition, the PML(N) is expecting a section of the routed PML (Q) to break away and offer allegiance to Mr. Sharif.

The PML (Q) has threatened to invoke anti-defection laws against deserters, but the ball may have been set rolling on Wednesday when four Senators of the party, members of the Upper House, led by the fiesty Niolfar Bakhtiar, raised the flag of revolt against their leadership.

At a press conference, Ms. Bakhtiar, sidelined by her party for hugging a parachuting instructor, said they were not leaving the party but would be an independent voice in the Senate. Two other Senators joined this group.

Wednesday’s meeting also appears intended to signal that PPP leader Asif Ali Zardari and Mr. Sharif are standing firm together despite their differences.

Ahead of the meeting, the the PPP was trying to control the fall-out from an interview given by Mr. Zardari to the Wall Stree Journal, in which he is quoted as wanting a “working relationship” with retired General Musharraf.

Clarifying the remarks the spokesperson said this was “not correct.” The PPP leader had merely stated in the interview that opposition parties did not have the requisite constitutional majority to remove the President and at no stage did he say the PPP was seeking to work with General Musharraf, said a statement from the party.

The PPP position is on the issue is clear, he said. The party will accord priority to strengthen Parliament by removing the changes made in the Constitution through an executive order that have tilted the balance against the elected Parliament. A strengthened Parliament, representing the will of the people, would then make its own sovereign decisions on the nature of working with the Presidency.

The PML (N) leader, meanwhile, ruled out “indemnity” for General Musharraf and said the party was firm on its demand for the restoration of the judiciary. Mr. Sharif said the two parties were agreed on this demand, and had arrived at a “joint formulation that is available with me and Mr. Zardari.”

Speaking in the capital, Chaudhary Nisar Khan of the PML (N) said his party would not join the government, and preferred instead to give PPP “political space” to fulfill “our common agenda”.

He gave two reasons for not joining the government: one, Ministers have to be sworn in by General Musharraf, who the party does not recognise as legal or constitutional; two, it wants to maintain its distinct identity as a party.


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