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Winning parties press Musharraf to convene hostile new Parliament
PakistanISL101 5514011
Asif Ali Zardari, right, widower of Pakistan's assassinated opposition leader Benazir Bhutto receives former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif during a meeting of politicians in Islamabad, Pakistan on Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2008. The winners of Pakistan's election were assembling their lawmakers Wednesday for the first time to press President Pervez Musharraf to convene what promises to be a hostile new Parliament. - photo by Associated Press
    ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Pakistan’s election victors vowed Wednesday to drastically reduce the powers of President Pervez Musharraf — even if they lack the strength in the new Parliament to drive him out of office.
    The parties of slain opposition leader Benazir Bhutto and another former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, trounced Musharraf’s allies in a Feb. 18 parliamentary ballot.
    Leaders of the parties said they wanted to restore the independence of the Supreme Court and try to muster enough votes to repeal Musharraf’s power to dismiss the government and parliament. They also raised the possibility of abolishing a body that gave the military a formal role in policymaking.
    ‘‘This is a window of opportunity,’’ said Asif Ali Zardari, Bhutto’s widower and the co-chairman of her Pakistan People’s Party, at a meeting of newly elected lawmakers from the two winning parties.
    ‘‘The homage to my ’shaheed’ (martyred) wife would be that we unite together, we take democracy, we take power for Parliament and once and for all finish the establishment,’’ he said.
    Western countries are hoping for a stable government able to counter Taliban and al-Qaida militants operating near the Afghan border. The government has blamed an al-Qaida-linked group for Bhutto’s Dec. 27 assassination.
    But Musharraf is resisting growing pressure to resign, raising the prospect of a fresh political crisis that could spoil Pakistan’s return to democracy after eight years of military rule.
    Sharif urged Musharraf to quickly convene Parliament so that the parties can begin the ‘‘gigantic task’’ of restoring the country’s much-amended constitution.
    ‘‘We are not prepared to wait for a single more day,’’ Sharif said. ‘‘We are ready for a transition.’’
    The three parties that met Wednesday are expected to form a coalition government as early as next month with Makhdoom Amin Fahim, a longtime Bhutto lieutenant, as prime minister.
    The new Parliament could give a rough ride to Musharraf, whose role in Washington’s war against terrorism and increasingly authoritarian rule have made him deeply unpopular.
    Sharif said Wednesday that the prospective coalition partners have 171 seats out of 272 in the National Assembly and that they would soon secure the two-thirds majority needed to change the constitution or impeach Musharraf.
    Pro-Musharraf parties retain a slender majority in the 100-seat Senate, the upper house. But six senators announced on Tuesday that they were breaking away from the erstwhile ruling bloc.
    Farhatullah Babar, a spokesman for the People’s Party, said it had ‘‘great hopes’’ that enough senators would support a move to abolish the National Security Council — a body set up under Musharraf which gave the military a formal role in policymaking.
    The new government also could muster the two-thirds majority in both houses to remove Musharraf’s power to dismiss the government and dissolve Parliament, Babar said.
    ‘‘The winds of change are blowing,’’ he said, but conceded: ‘‘If we want to remove the president, we may not be able to get their (government senators’) support.’’
    The new leaders are also vowing to restore the independence of the Supreme Court. Musharraf declared a state of emergency and purged the court in November before it could rule on the disputed legality of his re-election as president a month earlier.
    Sharif is calling for the immediate restoration of the judges in the hope that it will prompt Musharraf to quit. The judges include Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, who has been under house arrest for nearly four months.
    ‘‘This person (Musharraf) has played havoc with the institutions of Pakistan,’’ Sharif said Wednesday.
    However, the People’s Party has left open whether the justices will return to their posts — a position that has prompted speculation that it will compromise with Musharraf.
    Pervez Elahi, a key Musharraf ally, insisted Wednesday that the pro-government bloc would remain united and forecast that its opponents would fail to achieve their goals.
    ‘‘We have elected him (Musharraf) and we will defend him,’’ Elahi said at a news conference in the eastern city of Lahore.

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