Pakistan: the new prime minister seeks a test of power
Pakistan has a new prime minister, and the pakistani president has a new adversary who is obviously looking for a test of strength. After his election by the parliament, the newly elected yousaf raza gilani (pakistan peoples party – ppp) announced as his first official act, to rude applause from the deputies, that he had released those judges whom musharraf had sentenced to house arrest months ago. Among them is iftikhar muhammad chaudhry, the president of the supreme court, who was deposed by musharraf and is now known worldwide as the president’s political opponent.
A signal start for the new prime minister, who was elected by a rough majority – 264 votes out of a total of 342 – in the lower house of parliament. Gilani is backed by a coalition of the bhutto party (ppp), whose chairman zardari had nominated him, and nawaz sharif’s party, the pakistan muslim league. The fact that the two parties had recently joined forces in a coalition was celebrated as a major political success. It is due to one person in particular – pervez musharraf.
The presidential candidate received just 42 votes and went down to defeat. According to media reports, anti-musharraf sentiment is making waves that have also gripped pakistani mps. According to the new york times, the new head of government announced as a program of his coalition that within 30 days the chief justice chaudhry and the 13 other judges of the supreme court who were removed by musharraf will be replaced supreme court as well as 48 high court-judges back into office. A demand that was greeted with "thunderous applause" by the parliamentarians.
Justice chaudhry is the most prominent public opponent of coup president musharraf; he initiated judicial proceedings to investigate the legitimacy of musharraf’s administration. The latter tried for the first time in the spring of last year to remove the judge from office, which brought about a major domestic political crisis. In the end, musharraf had to reinstate chaudhry as chief justice.
In the fall, musharraf was threatened with a supreme court ruling that had significantly jeopardized his position in pakistan. There is much to suggest that musharraf, by declaring a state of emergency in november of last year, wanted to pre-empt this ruling by the supreme court, which was not going to be in his favor (cf. Pakistan: police continue to crack down on opposition members). Chaudhry was again suspended (as were his fellow judges) and a new supreme court was nominated according to the president’s personnel preferences. Musharraf waged a campaign against his country’s independent judges and lawyers – in the name of the fight against terror. Musharraf justified the declaration of a state of emergency with the fight against extremists who endangered the country.
However, an unwelcome consequence of the violent crackdown on oppositionists was that civil society forms developed from these milieus (cf. Pakistan: an attack to bury the returning bhutto). If the new prime minister now sides so clearly with chaudhry and takes such a clear stand against musharraf, it will be a successful drumbeat (preceded by tough coalition negotiations – see u.S. Truncates musharraf after election defeat): it can bring yousaf raza gilani not only the support of pakistani civil society, but also possibly the rough international attention he will need to stand up to musharraf’s claim to power and political struggle for survival. It will be interesting to see how musharraf’s so far so loyal supporters, the usa, will behave.