Nawaz Sharif pitches for Gilani in tussle with Zardari (Lead)

January 14th, 2009 - 2:45 pm ICT by IANS  

Nawaz SharifIslamabad, Jan 14 (IANS) Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has received support from an unexpected quarter in his barely veiled power struggle with President Asif Ali Zardari.Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif has declared he would back Gilani’s efforts to reclaim the supremacy of the office by repealing a controversial constitutional amendment that makes the presidency all powerful.

“If the presidency tries to create hurdles in our way, then the PML-N (Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz) will extend its support to the prime minister,” Sharif told reporters here Tuesday.

Two issues are at stake here: the survival of the provincial government in Punjab that is led by the PML-N and in which Zardari’s Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) is a junior partner and the repeal of the constitution’s 17th amendment that, among others, gives the president the power to dismiss a provincial government.

Though Zardari has gone on record to say the Punjab government would not be destabilised, the appointment of PPP stalwart Salman Taseer as the provincial governor last May was seen as an effort in that direction.

On his part, Gilani has been backing moves to repeal the 17th amendment, though the PPP has not publicly declared its stance on the issue.

On the one hand, he sent a key aide to London to meet Altaf Hussain, the leader of the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM) that has forwarded a draft bill on repealing the amendment to the parliament’s secretariat. This was seen as tacit support for the measure.

On the other, Gilani declared Tuesday: “It is only parliament which has to decide the balance of power between the president and the prime minister. I will form a parliamentary committee to study all the constitutional amendments moved by the political parties to repeal the 17th amendment.”

Not to be left behind, Sharif also declared Tuesday that the PML-N would also move a draft bill to repeal the 17th amendment.

Late last year, there were reports that Zardari was keen on transferring the all-encompassing presidential power to the prime minister’s office as a prelude to occupying that position.

These were officially denied at the time but the fact that Saudi intelligence chief Prince Muqrin bin Abdul Aziz is currently in Pakistan is proof enough that there’s more than meets the eye.

Ostensibly, Muqrin is here for discussions on the sub-continental scenario in the wake of the Mumbai terror attacks that India has blamed on elements operating from Pakistan.

But, as an official said, the focus of the visit was “stabilisation” of Pakistan’s politics.

“He would be meeting Zardari and Nawaz Sharif to bring both the parties closer,” the official said.

Muqrin had played an important role in Sharif’s exile to Saudi Arabia after former military dictator Gen. Pervez Musharraf seized power in 1999 and again when Sharif attempted to return to Pakistan in September 2007.

The official said Muqrin had been specially invited by Zardari to discuss the relationship with India and a possible rapprochement with Sharif’s PML-N.

The PPP and the PML-N had formed a coalition government after emerging one-two in the general elections last February. However, differences soon emerged with the PPP backtracking on its promise to reinstate the Supreme Court judges Musharraf had sacked after imposing an emergency in November 2007.

The PML-N then walked out of the coalition.

Commenting on the Gilani-Zardari tussle, The News Tuesday said: “The rumours about PM-president rift are becoming so strong that even if the prime minister on the one hand and his three top aides, the information minister and the advisers on security and petroleum on the other, praise each other, the people might not take it as genuine.”

“We know the gentle (Gilani) is hardly the kind of guy who would transform into a political hulk on his own. And we also know that in our country a prime minister becomes powerful only at the cost of the office of the president.

“Having said that, we also know that the presidency is occupied by a very determined President Asif Ali Zardari, who may not have read many books but could himself write a dozen on political survival,” the newspaper maintained.

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