ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Pakistan’s ruling party has said it is determined to curtail the powers of the presidency in favor of parliament, whether President Pervez Musharraf likes it or not. Staunch U.S. ally Musharraf, facing a chorus of calls to resign, told journalists on Saturday, in his first meeting with the media for weeks, that he had no plan to quit.
At the same time, Musharraf sounded a generally conciliatory tone saying parliament, dominated by opponents since his allies were defeated in a February election, was supreme.
Musharraf’s fate has consumed the attention of the new coalition since the polls, despite an economy that is deteriorating rapidly and a potent threat from al Qaeda and the Taliban.
Pakistan’s stock market and currency have both come under pressure because of a combination of factors, including the uncertainty over Musharraf and worry about more turmoil in the nuclear-armed country.
In the meeting with journalists on Saturday, Musharraf said he would accept proposed constitutional amendments the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) of assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto aimed to push through parliament.
But in what media interpreted as a warning he would not tolerate a cut in his powers, a confident-sounding Musharraf indicated he would not like to be reduced to a ceremonial head of state, saying he could not become a “useless vegetable.”
The People’s Party brushed aside any objections, saying parliament was sovereign and could make or amend laws and the constitution regardless of whether Musharraf liked it or not.
“Such hollow warnings would not deter the democratic forces from restoring the powers of the parliament,” PPP spokesman Farhatullah Babar said in a statement. “THROWING A GAUNTLET”
Bhutto’s widower Asif Ali Zardari, who leads her party, has called Musharraf a “relic of the past” and says the PPP does not recognize him as a constitutional president.
Nawaz Sharif, the prime minister former army chief Musharraf overthrew in a 1999 coup and who leads the second largest party in parliament, wants Musharraf impeached or tried for treason.
Sharif’s brother, Shahbaz, was on Sunday elected chief minister of Punjab, the country’s richest and politically most important province, bolstering the power of their party that won the most seat in the province’s assembly in February.
Another looming challenge to Musharraf is a lawyers’ movement that sprang up last year to fight his attempts to dictate to the judiciary. It is seeking to hasten his departure with a countrywide protest campaign this week.
Asked how would he react if the government tried to impeach him, Musharraf said: “I will abide by whatever parliament decides. Let the parliament decide in a constitutional way.”
Musharraf is believed to be seeking immunity for suspending the constitution and imposing emergency rule for six weeks in November. The PPP leadership, wary of a destabilizing confrontation, is trying to make his exit “dignified,” according to an adviser to Zardari.
Despite Musharraf’s public stance, political insiders say he recognizes that he will have to quit rather than be the cause of more upheaval, and it has become a matter of timing.
But the Dawn newspaper said on Sunday Musharraf appeared confident, perhaps because he had been assured he did not have to worry about impeachment: “He does not seem under pressure to go away in a hurry.”
The News newspaper said Musharraf had thrown down a gauntlet to his opponents: “By stalling his departure and by forcing the political system to unnecessarily spend its energies on now trying and impeaching him, he is directly prolonging the uncertainty.”