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Numbers obstacle to impeach Musharraf

Islamabad, April 20 (AP): Pakistan’s new government is avoiding a showdown with President Pervez Musharraf for now because it lacks the support needed to impeach him, the widower of Benazir Bhutto said.

In an interview with the British Broadcasting Corporation released yesterday, Asif Ali Zardari also said he may seek election to parliament in June and said he could become Prime Minister “if it is needed”.

Zardari took over Bhutto’s party after she was assassinated in December and led it to victory in the February elections. It leads a new coalition government that has vowed to trim Musharraf’s powers and revise his US-backed counter-terrorism policies.

But Zardari said it would only confront the unpopular former army strongman if it can muster the two-thirds majority in parliament needed to impeach him.

“The parliament and the President have a formal relationship. For the time being, we are not breaking up that status quo. We don’t have that power,” Zardari told the BBC’s Urdu language service.

“For the sake of the country, we don’t want confrontation. But this doesn’t mean we accept him (Musharraf). If we get the two-thirds majority we will think about making him accountable,” Zardari said.

Musharraf seized power in a military coup in 1999 and became a key ally in Washington’s war on terror.

His authority has waned since he finally retired as army chief last year and since the rout of his political allies in the parliamentary polls.

The new government plans to strip Musharraf of the power to dissolve the parliament.

It has also pledged to reinstate Supreme Court judges purged when Musharraf imposed emergency rule in November to stop legal challenges to him continuing for another five years as President.

Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who leads the second-largest party in the coalition and was ejected from office and exiled in the 1999 coup, is calling loudly for Musharraf to quit.

But Zardari said the government had many other things to do besides “besieging the President”.

Pakistan faces mounting economic problems, including electricity shortages and spiraling inflation. The government is struggling to contain ballooning budget and trade deficits as well as draw up a new strategy to counter Islamic extremism.

Zardari was not a candidate for the voting in February.

Only lawmakers can become Prime Minister, and Zardari chose low-profile Bhutto loyalist Yousaf Raza Gilani to front the coalition.

But he said he and his sister will register as candidates for the seat in southern Pakistan where Bhutto had planned to run and where her death prompted officials to postpone voting until June.

Zardari said “maybe” he or his sibling will run.

There are doubts about whether he holds the requisite bachelor’s degree, though the Supreme Court is expected to decide soon on whether the condition is discriminatory and should be abolished.

Zardari said he didn’t think it was “necessary” for the party chairman to take the post but added that he could in future “if it is needed”.

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