(Adds pro-Musharraf party nominates candidate for president)
By Jerry Norton
ISLAMABAD Aug 25 Former Pakistani prime
minister Nawaz Sharif pulled his party out of the ruling
coalition on Monday, deepening a political crisis that has
diverted government attention from pressing security and
The move came just a week after the coalition parties had
celebrated the resignation of President Pervez Musharraf in the
face of the coalition's threat to impeach him.
Sharif said the party of assassinated former prime minister
Benazir Bhutto, which leads the coalition, had repeatedly broken
promises on resolving a judicial dispute and on who should be
the next president.
"We therefore feel that these repeated defaults and
violations have forced us to withdraw our support from the
ruling coalition and sit on the opposition benches," Sharif told
a news conference.
The departure of his party is not expected to force a
general election as Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party (PPP), now
led by her widower Asif Ali Zardari, should be able to gather
enough support to govern, analysts say.
Sharif also said he would not try to destabilise the
government. "We'll play the role of a constructive opposition."
The coalition, formed after Musharraf's allies lost a
February general election, had looked increasingly precarious
since Musharraf resigned a week ago.
The PPP and Sharif's party were bitter rivals during the
1980s and 90s, when Bhutto and Sharif were both chosen twice as
prime minister, but they found common ground more recently in
their opposition to Musharraf.
His departure undermined the logic of their alliance.
Sharif had pulled his ministers out of the cabinet after an
earlier deadline passed to restore judges Musharraf purged last
year. He had repeatedly threatened to withdraw from the
coalition and last week set Monday as his latest deadline.
The PPP is reluctant to restore the judges partly because of
concern the deposed chief justice might take up challenges to an
amnesty granted to Zardari and other party leaders from graft
charges last year, analysts say.
Before Musharraf sacked them, the judges -- the former chief
justice in particular -- were quite willing to challenge his
government on the legality of various decisions, a tendency the
PPP may not view with enthusiasm now that it governs.
Another divisive issue is who should be the nuclear-armed
country's next president.
The PPP announced on Saturday that Zardari would be its
Sharif said that violated an earlier agreement with the PPP
for a non-partisan candidate if the presidency retained certain
powers, including to dismiss parliament.
Sharif wants the post of president stripped of powers, but a
senior official from Bhutto's party said at the weekend the
question of powers would be dealt with only after the
Sharif named his party's candidate for president, a former
chief justice, Saeeduzzaman Siddiqui. The pro-Musharraf Pakistan
Mulim League also nominated a candidate, top party official
Mushahid Hussain Sayed.
Members of the four provincial assemblies and two houses of
the national parliament will elect a new president on Sept. 6.
A spokesman for Zardari welcomed Sharif's pledge not to
destabilise the government.
"In a way, the coalition will remain intact," said the
spokesman, Farhatullah Babar. "We still hope Mr Sharif will
rejoin the coalition."
As the politicians bicker, militant violence has surged in
Pakistani Taliban gunmen attacked a district government
official's home in the Swat Valley, northwest of Islamabad, on
Monday, killing three family members and seven guards.
Signalling what could be a new Taliban tactic to undermine
foreign forces in Afghanistan, gunmen in the port city of
Karachi set fire on Sunday night to two armoured vehicles bound
for U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
The violence and political uncertainty, on top of weak
economic data, have undermined investor confidence and sent the
country's financial markets sharply lower.
The Pakistani rupee closed at a record low of around
76.60/70 to the dollar on Monday. Shares were nearly 2 percent
Pakistan's stock market, which rose for six consecutive
years to 2007 and was one of the best-performing markets in Asia
in that period, has fallen about 30 percent this year.
(With additional reporting by Augustine Anthony and Kamran
Haider; Writing by Robert Birsel; Editing by Myra MacDonald)