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Zardari Candidacy Confirmed As Pakistan Parties Wrangle


Nawaz Sharif has set a new deadline for the reinstatement of ousted judges

Nawaz Sharif has set a new deadline for the reinstatement of ousted judges

ISLAMABAD -- An official from the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) has said that party leader Asif Ali Zardari, the widower of assassinated former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, will be a candidate for president.

Pakistan's uneasy coalition partners have been discussing who should be the next president as militant violence added to a sense of urgency for them to get down to tackling security and economic problems.

Insecurity, combined with uncertainty over the future of the government and worry about the economy, has undermined investor confidence and sent the country's financial markets on a downward spiral.

Investors and allies had hoped the resignation of Pervez Musharraf as president on August 18 would end wrangling, but the main coalition parties have been unable to settle a dispute over the judiciary that threatens to end their alliance.

Another divisive issue is the next president.

A presidential election by members of the country's four provincial assemblies and the national parliament will be held on September 6.

Several senior Bhutto party officials have been in the eastern city of Lahore to discuss the issue with former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who heads the second biggest party in the coalition.

"They will discuss it and seek Mr. Sharif's opinion on the issue because we want a joint candidate for the race," said Bhutto party spokesman Jameel Soomro.

Pakistan's stocks and currency strengthened when Musharraf stepped down on August 18 but have weakened with no end in sight to the infighting between the two main coalition parties.

The rupee set a new low of about 77.15 to the dollar on August 22 before recovering very slightly, while stocks finished 2.4 percent lower.

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 29 percent this year.

New Deadline

The PPP and Sharif's party were bitter rivals during the 1990s when Bhutto and Sharif served two terms as prime minister. Thrown together by opposition to Musharraf, differences are likely to loom larger now that he has gone, analysts say.

Their main dispute is over the fate of judges Musharraf purged last year.

Sharif has been demanding they be restored to the bench and had threatened to pull his party out of the coalition if that is not done.

Bhutto's party is reluctant to restore the judges because of concern the deposed chief justice might take up challenges to an amnesty from graft charges granted to Zardari and other party leaders last year, analysts say.

Sharif let another deadline for the restoration of the judges pass on August 22 saying he had agreed to a parliamentary debate on the issue, while setting a new deadline of August 27.

Sharif withdrew his ministers from the cabinet after Bhutto's party missed an earlier deadline. But even if his party were to move to the opposition benches in parliament it would not force a parliamentary election, analysts say.

Bhutto's party is the biggest in parliament and should be able to gather enough support to remain in government.

Deadly Attacks

As the politicians bicker, militant violence has surged.

Troops have reportedly killed 35 militants in fighting in the Swat Valley northwest of Islamabad shortly after a suicide car-bomber killed eight policemen.

On August 21, two suicide bombers killed about 70 people outside the country's main defense-industry complex near Islamabad.
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