Here come da judges: Pakistan forms government

The two winning political parties in Pakistan have formed a government and will almost certainly start challenging Pervez Musharraf.  They have agreed on a policy of reinstatement for the judges Musharraf removed, which may cause a showdown between the president and his new parliament:

Pakistan’s two main opposition leaders agreed Sunday to form a coalition government, and urged President Pervez Musharraf to convene parliament without delay.

Asif Ali Zardari, widower of assassinated ex-premier Benazir Bhutto, and Nawaz Sharif signed the agreement at a news conference here after a fresh round of coalition talks following last month’s general election.

Zardari is the de facto leader of Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), which won the most seats in the February 18 ballot and, along with Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N), trounced Musharraf’s political allies.

The parties agreed to form a coalition government and to reinstate judges sacked by Musharraf during his emergency rule in November last year, Sharif said, reading from the joint declaration.

Musharraf had been accused of delaying the start of the new parliament, in part because of the possibility of the reinstatement of the judges who opposed him.  Musharraf denied this, but the protests over the sacking of Supreme Court justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry continues.  Lawyers have conducted a “black-flag week” of protests to highlight his case specifically, as he presented Musharraf with the greatest obstacle to the presidency before the sacking.

Musharraf, however, deserves some credit for conducting a fair election at his obvious political expense.  The coming coalition appears to have grudgingly recognized this.  The talk of impeachment has receded somewhat, and it looks like both Zardari and Sharif have decided to work with Musharraf, at least for the moment.  The reinstatement of judges represents the most confrontational policy on which they have agreed, and they could hardly avoid it even if they wanted to do so, which they don’t.  In order to secure Parliament, they have to re-establish a rule of law rather than edict.

Will the return of the judges mean a judicial overthrow of Musharraf?  It would let Zardari and Sharif off the hook for impeachment, but the bench may decide to take a more pragmatic view of the long term.  Right now, it looks like Musharraf won’t block a return to a full, functioning democracy and may be an asset to it.  Musharraf has little political clout any more, as the election proved, and any attempt to flex his muscles would almost certainly result in immediate impeachment.  Parliament may have more power by keeping a weak and unpopular Musharraf in office rather than giving a more popular politician the opportunity to flex his own muscles and compete against the assembly.