Opposition to resign over Musharraf re-election bid

ISLAMABAD Sun Sep 16, 2007 1:00pm EDT

Policemen chase supporters of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif during a pro-Sharif rally in Rawalpindi near Islamabad, September 10, 2007. Sharif was arrested and deported to Saudi Arabia within hours of arriving home from exile, vowing to end the rule of President Pervez Musharraf. REUTERS/Mian Khursheed

Policemen chase supporters of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif during a pro-Sharif rally in Rawalpindi near Islamabad, September 10, 2007. Sharif was arrested and deported to Saudi Arabia within hours of arriving home from exile, vowing to end the rule of President Pervez Musharraf.

Credit: Reuters/Mian Khursheed

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ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - An alliance of Pakistani opposition parties said on Sunday they would resign from national and provincial assemblies if President Pervez Musharraf tried to seek re-election from the sitting parliament.

Musharraf, faced with slumping popularity and speculation that his grip on power is slipping, is expected to seek a new mandate before October 15, after which assemblies will be dissolved for a general election around the end of the year.

"His attempt to get re-elected from the current assemblies will be defeated," Raja Zafar-ul-Haq, chairman of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League, told reporters after the opposition alliance meeting.

General Musharraf, a crucial U.S. ally, is expected to submit his nomination papers to the Election Commission imminently.

"We'll resign on the day that President Musharraf's nomination papers are accepted," Haq said.

Musharraf does not require opposition support to win the simple majority he needs for another five-year term, but a walk-out would damage the credibility of his re-election.

He will also face a raft of legal challenges in a Supreme Court regarded as hostile since his ill-fated attempt to sack the chief justice last March.

On Monday, a nine-member bench of the court will begin hearing a petition against his bid to stand for a second term, and his right to be president and army chief at the same time.

The main constituent of the All Parties Democratic Movement (APDM), the alliance threatening to quit parliament, is Sharif's PML faction.

Sharif, the prime minister Musharraf overthrew in 1999, tried to return from exile in London a week ago, but was deported to Saudi Arabia within hours.

Haq said the APDM would hold nationwide protests against the "illegal and unconstitutional" deportation of Sharif on September 10.

Critically, the single largest opposition party led by Benazir Bhutto, has stayed outside the APDM.

Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party (PPP) announced on Friday the two-time former prime minister will return from more than eight years of self-imposed exile on October 18.

If Bhutto's PPP remains in the assemblies it will reduce the impact if the APDM's resignations.

Bhutto has been in, as yet inconclusive, talks with Musharraf's emissaries about the possibility of a post election power sharing arrangement, under which he will stay president and she could become prime minister for a third time.

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