Bhutto's Widower Mulls Bid for Pakistan Presidency

The widower of Pakistan's slain opposition leader Benazir Bhutto was Saturday considering a tilt at the presidency, but the nation's brittle ruling coalition remained riven by squabbles.

Pakistan's former premier Nawaz Sharif (L) listens to his coalition partner Asfandyar Wali -- the head of Awami National Party -- in Islamabad. Pakistan's ruling coalition was riven by divisions despite crunch talks on Friday, raising fears for the government's ability to tackle Taliban bloodshed after a massive bombing killed 64 people.(AFP/Farooq Naeem)

Asif Ali Zardari unanimously won the backing of lawmakers from the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) on Friday but he has yet to announce if he will run in the September 6 poll.

The election follows the resignation of Pervez Musharraf and comes amid a prolonged struggle against Islamic militants who have wreaked havoc across the nuclear-armed nation in suicide bombings and fighting on the Afghan border.

A fragile coalition government comprising the PPP, now led by Zardari, and the party of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif is at loggerheads at how to reinstate dozens of judges sacked by Musharraf last year.

Political instability and a nosediving economy has alarmed Western nations looking for continuity after key US-ally Musharraf's departure but talks between the PPP and Sharif's party have so far failed to resolve the dispute.

Zardari is seen as a frontrunner for the presidency despite having previously denied any ambitions for the post made vacant by Musharraf's resignation in the face of impeachment charges.

"Zardari thanked Pakistan People's Party of which he is the co-chairman and said he will announce his decision within the next 24 hours," Information Minister Sherry Rehman said Friday, announcing the PPP's backing for Zardari.

The fate of the 60 judges, including the chief justice, has become a political sticking point with crucial repercussions for the coalition.

There has been no immediate comment from Zardari or the PPP on the issue. A resolution on their reinstatement would require their support, but they have shown no sign yet of keeping a pledge made in May to restore the judges.

Sharif has pushed back his deadline for the judges to get their jobs back until Wednesday next week, having previously threatened to quit the coalition if they were not restored by Friday.

The former premier said representatives of the two parties would draft a resolution on restoring the judges over the weekend and then introduce it in parliament on Monday, with a vote on Wednesday.

A double Taliban suicide bombing at Pakistan's biggest weapons factory on Thursday, the deadliest ever attack on a Pakistani military site, has put fresh pressure on the coalition to end its bickering.

Critics have suggested that Zardari is against the return of crusading chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry because he could overturn an amnesty on corruption charges that allowed Bhutto and Zardari to return to Pakistan.

The amnesty allowed Bhutto and Zardari to end years in exile in return for an agreement on a power-sharing deal with Musharraf, which later collapsed.

Bhutto was killed in a suicide attack at an election campaign rally in December and the parties in the current ruling coalition defeated Musharraf's allies in polls held in February.

Pakistan's election commission on Friday announced the September 6 contest for Musharraf's successor.

Under the constitution, the new president must be elected by a simultaneous sitting of the upper and lower houses of the national parliament and the country's four provincial assemblies.

Nomination papers will be scrutinised on August 28 and the final date for any withdrawals will be August 30, officials said.

Source: AFP

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