Pakistan's coalition government faces split

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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Nawaz Sharif, leader of Pakistan Muslim League (N).

Pakistan's coalition government will be no more, announced Nawaz Sharif, leader of the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) and former Prime Minister. The coalition, which was formed between the PML-N and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), was said to have reached a disagreement over the restoration of judges fired by President Pervez Musharraf in November 2007.

According to party spokesman Sidiqul Farooq, the 9 PML-N ministers in government will hand in their resignation papers to Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani on Tuesday afternoon.

Sharif blamed the PPP for failing to meet deadlines to restore the senior judges fired by Musharraf, which was Sharif's main condition for joining the coalition. The latest deadline for reinstating the judges was set for May 12, as talks between Sharif and PPP leader Asif Ali Zardari ended in London without reaching any deal. The government had originally promised to reinstate the judges by April 30.

Most of the disagreement lies within the question of how much power should be returned to the judges. Sharif has campaigned for a total reinstatement of power, while Zadari favors constitutional amendments that would limit their power.

If we surrender on this issue to the wishes of the military dictator, it will take us generations before we get an independent judiciary.

—Nawaz Sharif

Information Secretary Ehsan Iqbal, one of the ministers who will be resigning, supported Sharif's campaign for reinstatement. He called the series of events "a defining moment" for Pakistan. "Without the rule of law, without an independent judiciary, the country cannot move ahead democratically or constitutionally," he said.

At a press conference, Sharif said he will contest the by-elections on August 18, which could earn him a seat in Parliament. The Pakistan Peoples Party say they will not put a candidate against him in the elections.

"A day will come when the judges shall be restored," Sharif said. "If we surrender on this issue to the wishes of the military dictator, it will take us generations before we get an independent judiciary." He also said that despite quitting the government, he wishes to continue supporting the PPP-led government on an issue-by-issue basis. "We will not become part of any conspiracy to destabilize the democratic process," he said.

The Pakistan Peoples Party responded in a statement. They called the announcement of resignation "a pause in the process and not a break in the purpose of restoration of judges". They also said they do not intend to fill the vacated ministries, hoping the issue can be solved "amicably and in a spirit of accommodation and mutual trust".

Some analysts fear the judicial dispute will extend further, leaving the government unable to focus on more important issues facing the country. "This is a huge setback for the government," said Shuja Nawaz, a Pakistani security analyst in Washington, D.C.. "This crisis will distract attention from critical issues, and the real losers will be the people of Pakistan."


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