Just a week after Pervez Musharraf stepped down as president, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has left the People’s Party-led coalition. The move followed a turbulent weekend during which Asif Ali Zardari, Benazir Bhutto’s widower and acting head of the People’s Party, declared his intention to become Musharraf’s successor, and at the same time signalled he was not keen on restoring the judges Musharraf had sacked, despite his previous promises to Nawaz Sharif.
The shaky alliance between Nawaz Sharif (left) of the PML (N) and Asif Ali Zardari (right) of the PPP was on the rocks for days
The inevitable finally happened. Former Premier Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) decided to leave the ruling coalition after weeks of suspense.
Speaking at a news conference in Islamabad, former Premier Nawaz Sharif blamed the ruling Pakistan People’s Party for failing to fulfil the commitments it had made so far. This included the restoration of judges, sacked by Musharraf last November.
"We have taken this decision after we failed to find any ray of hope and none of the commitments made to us were fulfilled" Sharif said. "This situation forced us to withdraw our support and sit on the opposition benches."
Shaky coalition bound to falter
Pakistan’s two main parties, which had never seen eye-to-eye in the past, joined hands earlier this year to form a coalition. The plan was to stand against the then president Musharraf and his allies in February’s parliamentary elections and to win. The plan worked and the two parties ended up governing the country together.
But for the past five months, this alliance has been marred by disputes and differences -- especially over the issue of restoring the judges sacked by former President Musharraf last year.
Sharif’s party has long sought an immediate restoration of the judges. But the PPP has been reluctant to comply. Critics say that behind the PPP’s reluctance lie fears that the restored judges would challenge a controversial law under which PPP leader Zardari was granted amnesty on corruption charges.
Retired General Talat Masood, a political expert from Islamabad, thought that in the light of Nawaz Sharif’s quitting the coalition, the movement in favour of restoring the judges would gain momentum.
“You will have the lawyers’ movement, civil society and the opposition parties, including Nawaz Sharif, coming together and opposing what Zardari is doing.”
Tensions around Musharraf’s successor
But it is not only the restoration of judges that created tension between the coalition partners -- there was also a dispute about who should succeed Musharraf.
The PPP’s decision to field Zardari as its candidate for the upcoming presidential elections scheduled for September 6 exacerbated matters. Sharif’s party had insisted on putting a non-partisan candidate forward.
The PML (Nawaz) also wanted to amend Article 58(2)b of the Constitution that gives the president power to dissolve both the government and the parliament.
At the news conference, Sharif said that the ruling coalition had not paid attention to these demands.
He named a retired chief justice as his party’s candidate: “We have asked Saeed uz Zaman Siddiqui to accept our offer to become our presidential candidate. He is a good Pakistani and a non-partisan.”
Some analysts say the departure of Sharif’s party is not expected to destabilize the government or lead to a general election. They think the PPP will be able to garner enough support from other smaller groups.
General Masood says the move will strengthen the opposition: “I think the lines have been drawn clearly and now there is no ambiguity about the fact that we will have a strong opposition party. There is no question of expecting that Mr Sharif will ever support the government. He will take decisions contrary to Asif Zardari, he will probably take a different position on the war of terror.”
With Sharif in the opposition, governing the country is clearly not going to be an easy ride for the Pakistan People’s party.