Aug 12th 2008 | ISLAMABAD
PERVEZ MUSHARRAF, Pakistan’s president, celebrated his 65th birthday on Monday August 11th. On the same day, the ruling coalition, led by the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), launched a plot to ensure his retirement follows swiftly. Parliament was convened for the express purpose of impeaching Mr Musharraf, who ran Pakistan for eight years, more or less outright, before he resigned as army chief last November.
In a related move, meanwhile, the assembly of Punjab province, which is dominated by the PPP and its main coalition partner, the Pakistan Muslim League (N), voted to demand that Mr Musharraf face a confidence vote. The motion was passed by 321 to 25—signalling that over half the representatives of Mr Musharraf’s erstwhile ally, the Pakistan Muslim League (Q), voted against the president.
The same motion is set to be voted on in Pakistan’s other three provincial houses, starting in southern Sindh, on Tuesday or Wednesday. These votes are not directly related to the impeachment proceedings. They are intended to pile pressure onto Mr Musharraf, and so encourage him to quit, as many Pakistanis expect that he soon will. For now, however, the former commando says he is staying put.
Mr Musharraf’s best hope of survival would be to use his the powers he awarded himself to dissolve parliament. He has made similar interventions before. Having seized power in a 1999 coup, he clung to it last November by declaring a state of emergency to safeguard his presidential re-election. But these acts had the support of the army; and it is unlikely that Mr Musharraf would have this now. America, a staunch erstwhile ally of the unpopular president, is also reluctant to stick up for him. When the leaders of the PPP and PML(N), Asif Zardari and Nawaz Sharif, declared their intention to impeach Mr Musharraf on August 7th, a State Department spokesmen called it an “internal matter”.
Mr Musharraf must now hope to beg or buy more parliamentary support than he currently seems to have. It will be tough. The impeachment, which will based on allegations of unconstitutional misrule and misconduct by the president, would require two-thirds support in a joint vote of Pakistan’s two-tier assembly. The PPP thinks it can command such a majority. If others follow the lead of Mr Musharraf’s fleeing friends in Punjab, it may be right. Failing any coup-like interruptions, or Mr Musharraf ’s resignation, the government is expected to impeach the president over the next week or so.
Meanwhile, by uniting against a common foe, the PPP and PML(N) have done much to improve their own flagging relations. Traditional rivals, they entered into an alliance after routing Mr Musharraf’s supporters in a general election in February. But cracks appeared in May, after the PPP failed to honour a promise to reinstate some 60 judges, who were sacked by Mr Musharraf during the emergency. In response, Mr Sharif withdrew the PML(N)’s nine ministers from the cabinet, but not its support. As a mark of a renewed co-operation, four of these ministers are expected to return to work this week. The other five will join them after the judges are restored—as both party leaders say they will be, once Mr Musharraf is gone.
Perhaps this will all came about. But, given a legacy of mutual back-stabbing and continued mistrust between the parties, it may not happen smoothly. If Mr Musharraf is removed, the government will in theory have a month to elect a replacement president. But it would first try to pare back the powers of that office, by changing the constitution. This would require two-thirds support in each house of parliament; which, for now, with the PML(Q) dominating the upper house, the government does not have. With the three main parties likely to disagree on how the presidential office should be tweaked, and who should fill it, a protracted round of squabbling might ensue.
Given that Pakistan has one or two other matters in need of attention—including a mounting economic crisis and a spiralling Taliban insurgency—bickering over the presidency would be inadvisable.
Source: The Economist