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Pakistan President Refuses to Quit After Poll Wipeout

by Jeremy Page

A defiant President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan has rejected calls for his resignation, as his main opponents prepare to meet tomorrow to cobble together a coalition that could impeach him or water down his powers.

Mr Musharraf, who seized power in a coup in 1999, said he would remain in office until the end of his five year term in 2012.

He called for a "harmonious" coalition government between the main opposition parties which, according to unofficial results, won a substantial majority of seats in parliamentary elections on Monday.

The Pakistan People's Party, which was led by Benazir Bhutto until her assassination in December and won the most seats in the elections, suggested today that Mr Musharraf should quit.

A PPP statement "recalled General Musharraf's recent statements that if the parties supporting him were defeated in the elections, then he would resign from his office".

Nawaz Sharif, the former Prime Minister whose Pakistan Muslim League (N) won the second highest number of seats in the National Assembly, urged Mr Musharraf to quit yesterday on the same grounds.

The Pakistan Muslim League (Q), which supports Mr Musharraf, lost more than half its 118 seats in parliament, including those of 19 former federal ministers.

But in an interview with an American newspaper, President Musharraf pledged to serve his full term of office and to work with the new coalition government - even if it involved Mr Sharif, whom he ousted as Prime Minister in 1999, and unceremoniously deported late last year before the elections.

Asked if he would resign or retire, he said: "No, not yet. We have to move forward in a way that we bring about a stable democratic government to Pakistan."

Asked whether he could work with Mr Sharif, he said: "The prime minister runs the government. The president has his own position but has no authority running the government. The clash would be if the prime minister and president would be trying to get rid of each other. I only hope we would avoid these clashes."

He said it was premature to comment on who might be the country's next prime minister, as that was a matter for the political parties to decide.

But he insisted that it would be impossible to reinstate Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, the Chief Justice whom he dismissed in November when he imposed emergency rule to ensure his re-election as President.

"There is no room for it. Legally, there's no way this can be done," he said. "It's not a possibility. I can't even imagine how this is doable."

The status of Mr Chaudhry, who is under house arrest in Islamabad, is one of the key issues to be discussed between Mr Sharif and Asif Ali Zardari, Ms Bhutto's widower and successor as PPP leader, when they meet tomorrow.

Mr Sharif has demanded that he be released and reinstated, but the PPP leadership fears that Mr Chaudhry would overturn an agreement with Mr Musharraf under which corruption charges against Mr Zardari were dropped.

Mr Chaudhry would also be almost certain to invalidate Mr Musharraf's victory in a presidential election last year. Mr Zardari has said that parliament should decide the President's future.

Mr Sharif and Mr Zardari are also expected to meet with Asfandyar Wali Khan, the head of the Awami National Party, which trounced an alliance of Islamist parties in North West Frontier Province.

The PPP, the PML (N) and the ANP, combined with a few independents, hold more than the two-thirds majority in parliament that is needed to impeach Mr Musharraf or change the constitution to reduce his powers.

© 2008 Times Online

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