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Next Pakistani President Faces Daunting Challenges


After nine years in power, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf was forced to resign last week under mounting threat of impeachment. This week Pakistan’s ruling coalition – the two main parties that had come together primarily to oust the former president – broke apart. On September 6, Pakistan’s regional and national lawmakers will choose a new president.

On Monday [August 25], former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-N, withdrew his party from the ruling coalition because of disputes with the main faction. However, analysts say the departure of Mr. Sharif’s party is not expected to bring down the government because the Pakistan People’s Party, or PPP, has enough smaller allies in parliament to govern. Nawaz Sharif said he quit the coalition because the PPP broke a promise to restore the judges fired by former President Musharraf.

On Wednesday the government restored eight of the 60 judges deposed by the former president last November under emergency rule. But Pakistani lawyers criticized the move, saying it harms their demands for the restoration of all judges and does not include the re-instatement of Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudry. Then, on Thursday, hundreds of lawyers dressed in black suits rallied in cities across Pakistan, bringing traffic to a halt.

The PPP has nominated its leader, Asif Ali Zardari, widower of assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, for the post of president. Meanwhile Mr. Sharif is backing retired Supreme Court judge Said-uz-Zaman Siddiqui, a long-term political ally.

A Pakistani Perspective

Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid in Lahore says the next Pakistani president will face two major challenges – an economy that has been “in a state of meltdown” for the past six months and an increasingly emboldened and militant Taliban that operates in the border regions with Afghanistan. Speaking with host Judith Latham of VOA News Now’s International Press Club, Rashid says the problem is that the government has not taken these two issues seriously enough since it came to power in February.

Rashid says that, although the PPP’s Asif Ali Zardari has enough votes to win the presidency, the September 6th vote and its aftermath will likely leave a lot of “bitterness.” He notes that all the political parties committed themselves to withdrawal of the constitutional powers that Mr. Musharraf had as president, but now that Mr. Zardari is “becoming president himself,” he is showing “no signs” of being willing to give up these powers. That means, Rashid says, when Mr. Zardari becomes president, he will have the power to dismiss the prime minister as well as the right to appoint the next army chief and the judges. According to Rashid, the current political scene “portends more infighting - when the politicians should be rallying around the government.”

An Indian Perspective

Indian journalist Jehangir Pocha says people in neighboring India are far from sanguine about the development of democratic governance in Pakistan. Pocha says he thinks the next president of Pakistan will maintain a lot of power, largely because the country’s parliamentary system is “weak and immature, making it almost impossible to govern for more than a year or two.” However, he suggests, the prospects for the stability of Pakistan’s ruling coalition were “always slim.” Pocha says, although no one in India “expects the government to serve out a full term,” the big question is whether the situation will “once again give the military an excuse to step in.” He observes that throughout its 60-year history, Pakistan has tended to alternate between civilian and military governments.

An Egyptian Perspective

Egyptian prize-winning journalist Mona Eltahawy notes that the Taliban and al-Qaida pose a growing threat to Pakistan’s security. She says the terrorists in fact have benefited from the recent “squabbling between Zardari and Sharif” since President Musharraf resigned. According to Eltahawy, her countrymen can easily relate to the political problems currently facing the electorate in Pakistan, and Egyptians actually “celebrated on behalf of the people in Pakistan” when Mr. Musharraf was forced to resign. In fact, she says, the editor-in-chief of Egypt’s “most respected” independent newspaper wrote an open letter to the former Pakistani president, saying, “If you’re wondering where to go into exile, come to Egypt,” and President Hosni Mubarrak will “show you how to deal with these judges who keep standing up to you.” As an Egyptian watching political developments in Pakistan, Mona Eltahawy says, she hopes the lawyers and judges will keep an eye on the next president of Pakistan “as they did on Musharraf.”

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