- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 7, 2008

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan _ Pakistan’s ruling coalition will ask President Pervez Musharraf to seek a confidence vote in Parliament or face impeachment, senior party officials told The Associated Press on Thursday.

Two ruling party officials said that course of action was decided upon during marathon talks between party leaders Asif Ali Zardari and ex-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif that ended early Thursday.

Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they divulged the outcome of two days of talks before the formal announcement at an Islamabad news conference, due later in the day.

Musharraf, who ousted Sharif’s government in a bloodless coup in 1999 and then dominated Pakistan for eight years, was sidelined when Zardari and Sharif formed a coalition government after trouncing the former general’s allies in February parliamentary elections.

The coalition has a comfortable majority in the National Assembly, so Musharraf would struggle to win a confidence vote. That would crank up political pressure on the U.S.-backed former army chief to resign.

Soon after news broke of the coalition’s decision, the Foreign Office announced that Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani would represent Pakistan at the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics _ rather than Musharraf as originally planned.

That immediately fueled speculation the president had canceled his trip because of the imminent moves to oust him.

Political analyst Rasul Bakhsh Rais said if Musharraf seeks a vote of confidence and loses, it sends a political signal of his weakness, but constitutionally it would not lead to his removal from office. If he refuses to take such a vote, lawmakers could include that when drawing up impeachment charges against him, Rais said.

“There is a strong likelihood, but not certainty, that the ruling coalition can impeach him,” he said.

Impeaching a president requires a two-thirds majority support of lawmakers in both houses of Parliament. Musharraf loyalists maintain the coalition would struggle to muster it.

In October, Musharraf won his current five-year term in a controversial vote of lawmakers in the outgoing parliament which was dominated by his supporters. The current ruling parties _ who were then in opposition _ boycotted or abstained from voting.

Musharraf “will be asked by us to seek the vote of confidence from Parliament, as promised by him while contesting the presidential elections,” said one of the officials from Zardari’s party, which is the largest in the coalition.

The official said the coalition leaders would move a no-confidence motion against him if Musharraf failed to show that he enjoyed the support of the majority of lawmakers.

The official said the coalition had also agreed to restore judges sacked by Musharraf when he declared a state of emergency and rounded up thousands of opponents last November _ just as the Supreme Court was to rule on the legality of the October presidential vote.

The officials said the method for reinstating the judges would be announced by Sharif and Zardari.

The coalition was expected to issue a joint statement. The other ruling party official said it would ask Musharraf “to show confidence, failing which we start impeachment proceedings. After that judges will be restored.”

Sharif’s party refused to divulge the contents of the statement before the news conference.

The former prime minister has been more aggressive than Zardari in seeking Musharraf’s ouster and has repeatedly demanded the restoration of the judges.

Sharif spokesman Ahsan Iqbal said early Thursday that the coalition leaders were committed to reinstating the judges and promised “good news” in the upcoming announcement.

Rifts over the judges and how to handle Musharraf have weakened the four-month-old government and hampered its efforts to formulate policies to counter Islamic militancy and a slew of economic problems.

The president, a stalwart U.S. ally, has in recent weeks made more public appearances and comments _ seen by some in Pakistan as an attempt to show he remains a political force. He has appeared intent to serve out his five-year term.

While he has little say in the day-to-day running of government and has ceded his control of the powerful army, Musharraf retains the constitutional power to dissolve Parliament. Analysts say he probably retains some influence with the military.

____

Associated Press writers Zarar Khan and Nahal Toosi contributed to this report.

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