ISLAMABAD, August 22 – Pakistan will hold a presidential election on September 6 to pick a successor to Pervez Musharraf, who resigned this week to avoid impeachment charges, the election commission said Friday.,
The announcement came as a key member of the feuding coalition government extended his deadline for the reinstatement of judges sacked by Musharraf last year, an issue that threatens to tear apart the ruling alliance.
A double Taliban suicide bombing at Pakistan’s biggest weapons factory on Thursday, the deadliest ever attack on a Pakistani military site, has put fresh pressure on the coalition to end its bickering.
"Presidential elections will be held on September 6. The nomination papers can be filed from August 26," election commission secretary Kanwar Dilshad told a news conference.
Under Pakistan’s constitution, the new president must be elected by a simultaneous sitting of the upper and lower houses of the national parliament and the country’s four provincial assemblies, he said.
Nomination papers will be scrutinised on August 28 and the final date for any withdrawals will be August 30, Dilshad added.
Asif Ali Zardari, the widower of slain former premier Benazir Bhutto and now leader of her Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), is the frontrunner for the presidency after the party’s MPs urged him to stand for the post.
The PPP, which won the most seats in elections in February, is expected to formally nominate its candidate at a meeting of its central leadership later on Friday.
But it is also embroiled in a critical dispute with Nawaz Sharif, another ex-prime minister, over the restoration of the judges whom Musharraf deposed under a state of emergency last year.
Sharif pushed back his deadline for the judges to get their jobs back until Wednesday next week, having previously threatened to quit the coalition if they were not restored by Friday.
Sharif said that representatives of his and Bhutto’s party would draft a resolution on restoring the judges over the weekend and then introduce it in parliament on Monday, with a vote on Wednesday.
"Wednesday should be the day for reinstatement of judges," Sharif told a news conference after meeting the leaders of two smaller parties in the coalition, who had been trying to mediate on the dispute.
"We do not want to quit the coalition and wish to go along with our coalition partners," Sharif said.
But there was no immediate comment from Zardari or the PPP. A resolution would require its support, but it has shown no sign yet of keeping the pledge that it made in May to restore the judges.
The fate of the 60 judges, including the chief justice, who were deposed by Musharraf under emergency rule in November, has become a political sticking point with crucial repercussions for the coalition.
Critics have suggested that Zardari does not want chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry to come back because he could overturn an amnesty on corruption charges that Musharraf granted Bhutto and Zardari last year.
The amnesty allowed Bhutto and Zardari to return from years in exile in return for an agreement on a power-sharing deal with Musharraf, which later collapsed.
Bhutto was killed in a suicide attack in December and the parties in the coalition defeated Musharraf’s allies in elections two months later.