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Last-ditch negotiations to save Pakistani government

Latest update : 2008-05-13

Pakistan's Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani on Tuesday called for "last minute efforts" to restore dismissed judges and refused the resignation of ministers from Nawaz Sharif’s party, who pulled out of the six-week-old cabinet over the issue.

Pakistan’s six-week-old coalition government faced a major setback on Tuesday as ministers from one of the main parties handed in their resignations, plunging the country into fresh political turmoil.


Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) withdrew from the cabinet due to differences with the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), its main coalition partner, over the reinstatement judges sacked by President Pervez Musharraf in November 2007.


Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani called for a "last minute effort" to save his six-week-old coalition government, after refusing to accept the resignations of the ministers.


“The judges were supposed to be restored 30 days after the new government was formed but this issue has been taken lightly (by the coalition government),” Sharif told FRANCE 24.


Nine out of 24 cabinet members belong to the PML-N; they are turning their resignations in to the prime minister, Yousaf Gilani, on Tuesday, Sharif said. But Gilani declined to accept their resignation, saying he would wait until PPP's co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari returns to the country from London on Tuesday evening. Zardari is the widower of Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated in December 2007.


The ministers' resignation follows three days of unsuccessful talks between Sharif and Zardari in London.


Sharif said his party wants the judges to be restored rapidly with their old powers through a simple resolution in parliament, but the PPP, who is pushing for limitations on the judges’ powers, wants to reinstate the judges through proper constitutional measures.


“We promised a change to the people of Pakistan,” PPP spokesperson Farzana Rajatold FRANCE 24 in a telephone interview. “We want to reinstate the judges but at the same time the government wants to strengthen the judicial system because it has been misused by dictators in the past. The judiciary has always supported them. The government wants to bring in a balance of power and strengthen an institution not an individual,” Raja argues.



‘Fight against dictatorship will continue’


President Pervez Musharraf dismissed some 60 judges during a state of emergency in November 2007 as the Supreme Court prepared to rule on the validity of his Oct. 6 reelection, replacing them with political allies. After opposition parties won February’s legislative elections, they formed a coalition headed by the PPP and PML-N. Sharif said he made the judges’ reinstatement a condition of his party joining the government.


“We pledged to the people of this country that we will restore the judges and we want to fulfill this pledge,” Sharif told FRANCE 24 in a telephone interview. “The consequences of not restoring the judges are very grave; there can’t be a democratic state without an independent judiciary. The current Supreme Court judges were sworn in during the emergency. They owe their allegiance to one man.”




Sharif told FRANCE 24 that his party’s withdrawal is a setback to the democratic process, but said the PML-N would continue to support the PPP and would not take any decision that would destabilize the government. “The dictatorship is trying to de-stabilise the country’s political system, but we will not allow it,” Sharif said. “Musharraf wants to destabilise the political system in the country and see this coalition break up.”


The PPP, meanwhile, will continue to pursue talks with PML-N to resolve the current crisis. Farzana Raja told FRANCE 24 that PPP’s Asif Ali Zardari will resume negotiations with PML-N. “We want PML-N members to re-join the cabinet,” Raja said. “We can’t afford to de-stabilise the democratic process. The coalition needs PML-N’s support and we want to work with them.”



The newly-formed government had set a May 12 deadline for the reinstatement of the judges but failed to do so. “We cannot keep setting deadlines to restore the judges,” Sharif said. “This is the second deadline that we’ve missed. We should have allowed them long ago to take their position through a simple resolution in parliament,” Sharif said.


May 12 marked the first anniversary of clashes between supporters of sacked chief judge Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry and Musharraf in Karachi in which more than 40 people were killed.

On Nov. 3, as the Supreme Court prepared to rule on the validity of his Oct. 6 reelection, Musharraf declared emergency rule. He suspended the constitution and sacked Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry and other top judges. Lawyers and journalists  took to the streets and were brutally repressed.




Date created : 2008-05-13