Sharif, Zardari agree to form coalition government

February 22nd, 2008 - 1:40 am ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Nawaz Sharif
(Second Lead)
By Devirupa Mitra
Islamabad, Feb 21 (IANS) Pakistan is set for a “national consensus government” as Asif Ali Zardari and Nawaz Sharif, leading two largest parties in the newly elected National Assembly, Thursday agreed to join hands at both the national level and in provinces. “We have been able to secure the elections in a manner so that we have a comfortable majority in the centre and the provinces, together with ANP (Awami National Party),” Nawaz Sharif, leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), told reporters at a joint press conference along with Zardari, co-chairman of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and husband of assassinated former prime minister Benazir Bhutto.

The media conference came after two hours of talks between the two leaders and their aides in the Zardari House here late in the evening - the first time that they met after Monday’s general elections led to a hung verdict and threw out the erstwhile ruling party, pro-Musharraf PML-Quaid (PML-Q).

The PPP has won 87 of the 272 contested seats of the National Assembly, PML-N 66, PML-Q 40, while the ANP has 10 seats. If the reserved seats are added, the numbers could go up to 113 for PPP, 84 to PML-N and 14 to ANP, which will take them very close to the two-third majority mark in the 342-member National Assembly.

“We came to the same position when we started the fight (for democracy). We intend to stay together in the parliament… We have future in democracy within our grasp,” said Zardari.

Sharif, a former prime minister, asserted there was no disagreement between the two parties that were bitter rivals in the 1990s.

“We respect the mandate wholeheartedly. We told Zardari that we will not only be supporting your government in Islamabad, we will ensure that you fulfil the five years as given by the people of Pakistan,” he said.

On the crucial question of restoring the judiciary’s powers, Sharif read out a statement: “In principle, there is no disagreement on restoration of judiciary. We will work out modalities in the parliament.”

The PML-N had earlier insisted that the release of Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry and seven judges detained after declaration of emergency by President Pervez Musharraf is their first priority, while PPP had talked in broader terms of making the judiciary independent.

Justice Chaudhary in his address to lawyers in Karachi and Lahore by phone Thursday said the National Assembly had no role in restoring position of the judges, as it could be done by a simple notification - as the declaration of emergency and the Provisional Constitution Order (PCO) had not got parliamentary approval.

Sharif also said that both parties have decided to implement in “letter and spirit” the Charter of Democracy signed by him and late Bhutto in London in 2006, when both were in exile.

Meanwhile, lawyers in several cities took out rallies demanding immediate release of the sacked judges. Police used teargas and baton on lawyers in Karachi when they tried to take out a protest march.

There was a protest outside the residences of the chief justice and other judges in house arrest at the Judges’ Colony in Islamabad, where police lobbed a teargas shell at the crowd of lawyers and civil society activists.

Sharif joined the protestors and said he was for the immediate release of the detained judges, and warned that the people will free the judges, if the government did not do so.

Earlier in the day, Zardari met ANP leader Asfanydar Wali Khan and had agreed on the main points, which included independence of judiciary and freedom of expression.

The question of Musharraf’s future was also a major point on the agenda, as Sharif, who was removed in 1999 by a military coup, bitterly opposes him.

Answering a query on whether President Musharraf, he said, “I think that you know my views. Nation has given out its verdict. Sooner he accepts the verdict, better for him.”

Zardari also ruled out the possibility of PML-Q joining the consensus government.

“(We are) not looking pro-Musharraf forces… do not believe that pro-Musharraf forces exist,” he said.

Meanwhile, he also announced that the new parliament’s “first point of order on taking oath of government will be a request to the UN for helping us uncover the assassination of Benazir Bhutto”.

Besides, Zardari also said both sides had agreed on a “political solution” for Balochistan as well as the need for giving greater autonomy to the provinces.

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