February 22, 2008 2:00 am
Pakistan's two main opposition parties which won the most seats in Monday's parliamentary election, last night agreed to form a coalition government in a significant setback to president Pervez Musharraf's rule.
After an hour-long meeting in Islamabad, Asif Zardari, chairman of the Pakistan People's party (PPP), said: "We have agreed to work together to form government at the centre and the [four] provinces."
Nawaz Sharif, former prime minister and head of the Pakistan Muslim League - Nawaz (PML-N) said; "We have agreed on a common agenda" adding that "we urge president Musharraf to accept the popular verdict as soon as possible".
Mr Zardari led the PPP following the December assassination of Benazir Bhutto, his wife and the party's leader.
The alliance still keeps them short of the required support of two thirds of the combined 442 members of the lower and upper house of parliament to impeach Mr Musharraf.
But analysts said the coalition could further weaken Mr Musharraf by reversing some of his decisions in the past nine years including overseeing the return of judges opposed to his rule.
Mr Sharif said the two parties had overcome their differences over his demands for the immediate restoration of Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhary, the country's chief justice, sacked by Mr Musharraf in November.
"In principle there is no disagreement on the restoration of the judiciary," said Mr Sharif. A senior aide to Mr Zardari said the parties would discuss further "to deal with the nuts and bolts on ways to reconcile Nawaz Sharif's position with our view".
The PPP has been vague in demanding Mr Chaudhry's reinstatement but has called for steps to ensure independence of judiciary, while Mr Sharif has vociferously called for the former chief justice's return.
Some believe Mr Zardari is opposed to Mr Chaudhary's return out of concern that the former chief justice may overrule a controversial presidential amnesty for politicians from prosecution in cases of corruption. Mr Zardari and his wife have faced corruption charges since Bhutto's government was dismissed in 1996 on graft allegations. They have always denied the charges.
Earlier yesterday Mr Sharif told a crowd of lawyers near Mr Chaudhary's home in Islamabad that the "time has come to take Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhary and other judges to their chambers in courts".
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