IHT : Bhutto's widower will be party's candidate for Pakistan presidency

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Bhutto's widower will be party's candidate for Pakistan presidency

By Salman Masood | August 22, 2008

ISLAMABAD: The senior party in Pakistan's governing coalition on Friday nominated Asif Ali Zardari, the widower of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, as its candidate in elections for president.

Also Friday, the Election Commission set Sept. 6 as the date lawmakers would elect the new president, after the resignation this week of President Pervez Musharraf.

Hours later, members of the Pakistan People's Party said that Zardari, a leader of the party, would be their candidate.

The new president will confront an escalating insurgency by militants in the country. The announcement of the election date came a day after two suicide bombings outside the country's biggest weapons factory complex, in Wah, 32 kilometers, or about 20 miles, north of the capital, Islamabad.

The death toll in those attacks rose Friday to 78, said Rao Muhammad Iqbal Khan, the city police chief of Rawalpindi. Rao said 103 people were wounded in the bombings, the deadliest strike by the Taliban in the past 18 months.

The Taliban said the bombings were in response to a fierce Pakistani military operation against militants over the past two weeks in the tribal region of Bajaur. The insurgents threatened more suicide attacks if the government continued its military campaign.

Leaders of the governing coalition met in Islamabad on Friday to discuss a plan to reinstate judges deposed by Musharraf during a state of emergency last November, a move that contributed to his downfall.

One leading member of the governing coalition, former Prime Minister Nawaz al-Sharif, head of the Pakistan Muslim League-N, has threatened to pull out of the coalition if the judges were not reinstated.

Kanwar Muhammad Dilshad, secretary of the Election Commission, said Friday in Islamabad that nomination papers would be filed Tuesday and would be considered Thursday. Members of Parliament and the four provincial assemblies will vote Sept. 6, and the result will be announced the same day.

The ruling coalition has wavered on the issue of restoration of the judges, despite showing unity in engineering the ouster of Musharraf.

The reinstatement of Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry and other Supreme Court and high court judges fired by Musharraf was one of Sharif's main election promises. On Friday, at a press briefing in Islamabad, Sharif said that a drafting committee would finalize a resolution for the reinstatement of the judges that would be introduced in Parliament on Monday.

"After debate," Sharif said, "it should be passed on Wednesday and judges should be restored."

Despite Sharif's deadline of Wednesday, other members of the governing coalition, especially the Pakistan People's Party, appeared to be in no rush.

Zardari fears that Chaudhry, if reinstated, might undo an amnesty agreement that absolved Zardari of corruption charges. The amnesty was part of a package arranged by Musharraf when Zardari returned to Pakistan after his wife, Bhutto, was assassinated in December.