Pakistan's Musharraf faces impeachment
By MUNIR AHMAD, Associated Press Writer 1 minute ago
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - Pakistan's ruling coalition said Thursday it would seek the impeachment of President Pervez Musharraf, alleging the U.S.-backed former general had "eroded the trust of the nation" and increasing pressure on him to resign.
Despite his unpopularity in Pakistan, Musharraf has so far resisted calls to step down and insisted he will serve out his current five-year term after he was elected in a contentious parliamentary vote in October. Impeaching a president requires a two-thirds majority support of lawmakers in a joint session of both houses of Parliament.
Musharraf dominated Pakistan for eight years and became a close U.S. ally after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, but ceded control of the powerful army last year and has been largely sidelined since the coalition parties trounced his allies in February parliamentary elections.
Ruling party chief Asif Ali Zardari declared the decision Thursday was "good news for democracy" in Pakistan. Announcing a joint statement alongside his coalition partners after two days of talks, he said it was "imperative" for them to move for Musharraf's impeachment.
Policies pursued by Musharraf during his eight years in power "have brought Pakistan to a critical economic impasse," said Zardari, the widowed husband of former premier Benazir Bhutto who took charge of her party following her assassination in December.
"His policies have weakened the federation and eroded the trust of the nation in national institutions," Zardari added.
Zardari claimed Musharraf had given a "clear commitment" to resign if his party lost in the February elections and had failed to honor a pledge made by his attorney to the Supreme Court to seek a vote of confidence from the new Parliament.
Zardari also claimed Musharraf had "conspired" with the opposition party against Pakistan's democratic transition.
"The coalition further decided that it will immediately initiate impeachment proceedings. The coalition leadership will present a charge sheet against Gen. Musharraf," Zardari told a news conference, alongside leaders of the other coalition parties.
Nawaz Sharif, who was ousted as prime minister in Musharraf's 1999 coup and is the leader of the second-largest coalition party, said the process of impeachment would start "in the next few days."
Musharraf loyalists maintain the coalition would struggle to muster the needed two-thirds majority, but Zardari expressed confidence they would succeed.
"We hope that 90 percent of the lawmakers will support us," Zardari said.
Tariq Azeem, a spokesman for the main pro-Musharraf opposition party, said it would oppose any impeachment of the president.
"We have backed him and voted for him so we are duty bound to support him ... We will oppose impeachment," he said.
He said there were more pressing issues facing the nation, including "runaway inflation" and sharp hikes in the price of food.
Azeem said he did not think the ruling coalition had the numbers in Parliament to impeach Musharraf, but conceded "things could go either way."
Inflation in Pakistan is running at over 20 percent, and the country suffers hours of power outages daily. Food prices have soared. The current government is also struggling to contain violent Islamic extremism.
The militancy is of particular concern to the U.S., which despite its longtime backing of Musharraf also has expressed support for Pakistan's new civilian administration.
"As we have consistently said, these are internal issues to be resolved by the Pakistani people," U.S. embassy spokesman Lou Fintor said Thursday of the impeachment plans. "And our expectation would be that this will be resolved in a manner consistent with the rule of law and the Pakistani constitution."
Zardari also said the four provincial assemblies should demand Musharraf take a vote of confidence immediately.
Shortly before the announcement, the Foreign Office said 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.
The ruling coalition has a comfortable majority in the National Assembly, or lower house, but Musharraf's supporters retain about half the seats in the Senate, or upper house.
Political analyst Rasul Bakhsh Rais said, "There is a strong likelihood, but not certainty, that the ruling coalition can impeach him."
Retired general Talat Masood said he did not think Musharraf could survive politically and that his best option was to resign.
He said the president could face a backlash if he tried to exercise his constitutional power to dissolve Parliament in an effort to forestall the impeachment bid. Masood said to exercise that power would require the support of the army.
"The army would be crazy for doing that. The army needs to improve its reputation and image with the people of Pakistan," he said.
The coalition 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.
Thursday's decision could heal rifts in the coalition, which had been split over the judges issue and how to handle Musharraf.
The ruling party now expects Sharif's party to rejoin the federal Cabinet. It had pulled out in May because of the differences.
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.
Associated Press writers Sadaqat Jan, Zarar Khan and Nahal Toosi contributed to this report.