New Pakistan Coalition Could Spell End for Musharraf

After winning the most seats in Pakistan's general election, the party of slain former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto is putting together a coalition that could restore the judges President Pervez Musharraf sacked last year. The judges, in turn, could throw Musharraf out of office.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.

This week's events in Pakistan may shine a light on the difference between elections and the rule of law. Pakistan held a parliamentary vote on Monday. Allies of President Pervez Musharraf suffered a big defeat. And now all that's left to be worked out is everything.

It is not clear how or if the winning parties will form a coalition, and then there's the question of what happens to Pakistan's judges. President Musharraf got rid of ones he found inconvenient.

Joining us now to talk through all this is NPR's Philip Reeves, who's in Pakistan. And, Philip, what happens now with Pakistan's judiciary?

PHILIP REEVES: Well, it's not at all clear. We are about to enter this long process of negotiating between the parties. And the second largest party, who may or may not enter this coalition government, is that of Nawaz Sharif, of course an arch enemy of President Musharraf. And his primary demand is that the judiciary that were sacked by Musharraf late last year are restored.

If that happens, then there's a possibility that those judges will decide that Mr. Musharraf's reelection as president was illegitimate. So it's a key issue.

And today, I went down to the high court in Lahore to talk to some of the lawyers there who have been, if you like, the war horses in the battle to get the judiciary restored. This election's been a key moment for them, and they've been watching very closely what happens. And they were gathered together in this wonderful old 100-year-old tea room where they meet every day to discuss their cases, to discuss politics.

And I got a group of them around me and we started talking about what was going to happen next. And the first person I spoke to was a lawyer called Assad Munir(ph). Now, he thinks that Mr. Sharif's argument that the judges should be restored will win the day.

Mr. ASSAD MUNIR (Lawyer): We see vital prospects for the restoration of the judiciary. I hope he's able to persuade the other party to follow suit, and things should be back to normal and we'll see those judges again back in their courts.

REEVES: Do you think he will be able to persuade the other party (unintelligible)?

Mr. MUNIR: Well, I think. I'm very hopeful. But he's not able to do so, I think the lawyers, they will, again, be on the streets.

REEVES: And Steve, another lawyer, Ibin Hassan(ph), said that he thought that this election in Pakistan would give a much needed boost to the lawyers' movement, which was starting to split over exactly how to tackle this issue of restoring the judiciary. I asked Assad Munir, the lawyer we first heard from, what he thought the head of the leading party in the elections, Asif Zardari, would do. Because there've been questions about whether Zardari - who is, of course, the husband of the late Benazir Bhutto - would restore the judges fired by Musharraf.

Mr. MUNIR: He has not said that judiciary should not be restored. He has not said it should be restored. So it's somewhere in between. And in the days to come, we are hopeful that with lawyers wholeheartedly behind the restoration, Mr. Zardari will not be able to say no to the restoration of judiciary.

Mr. KHALID RASHID(ph) (Lawyer): The lawyers initiated a movement, which changed the scenario of all politics in this country. And these two parties are there because of the movement of lawyers. And if they will prepare the lawyers' movement, there will be no more. It is a revolution, anyway.

REEVES: That last gentleman speaking was a lawyer called Khalid Rashid. And I should say when they mentioned Asif Zardari, that, of course, is the husband of the late Benazir Bhutto, the man who is, in effect, in charge of the Pakistan People's Party, which, of course, has won the most seats in this election.

INSKEEP: Philip, I just want to get a sense of what is really at stake here. You said if some of these judges are restored, they might throw Pervez Musharraf out of office, or try, which could lead to even more turmoil. But can you have the rule of law, can you have stability in Pakistan if the judges aren't restored?

REEVES: You know, it's very difficult to say, Steve. I think there's genuine ambivalence in Pakistan at the moment about whether Musharraf should be under pressure to leave office. And there are a significant element of people who I think - although they're not so vocal at the moment, I'm not at all sure about whether he actually want to stay on in the interest of stability.

These issues are going to be aired at great length in the next few days. And I suspect this process is going to last quite a long time before we see a coherent government forming.

INSKEEP: Okay. Thanks very much. That's NPR's Philip Reeves, who's been covering the elections in Pakistan.

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Pakistan's Musharraf Vows to Stay in Office

Asif Ali Zardari, widower of slain opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, addresses supporters. i i

hide captionAsif Ali Zardari, widower of slain opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, addresses supporters prior to a party meeting at his residence in Islamabad.

Aamir Qureshi/AFP/Getty Images
Asif Ali Zardari, widower of slain opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, addresses supporters.

Asif Ali Zardari, widower of slain opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, addresses supporters prior to a party meeting at his residence in Islamabad.

Aamir Qureshi/AFP/Getty Images

Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf vowed Wednesday to serve out his full five-year term, despite a resounding defeat for his ruling party during recent parliamentary elections.

Musharraf, who seized power in a 1999 coup, was not on the ballot, but the poll was widely seen as a referendum on his eight-year rule - including his alliance with the United States in the war on terrorist groups based in Pakistan and neighboring Afghanistan.

Asked by The Wall Street Journal if he had considered resigning, Musharraf replied: "No, not yet. We have to move forward in a way that we bring about a stable democratic government to Pakistan."

With the ballot count nearly complete, the parties of slain former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif - the leader Musharraf ousted - had won enough seats to form a new government. They were expected, though, to fall short of the two-thirds needed to impeach Musharraf.

President Bush said Wednesday that he hoped the sweeping defeat of Musharraf's party won't end the Islamic nation's cooperation in fighting radical extremists.

"It's now time for the newly elected folks to show up and form their government," Bush said during a news conference in Ghana, the fourth of five nations he's visiting in Africa. "The question then is 'Will they be friends of the United States?' I certainly hope so."

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