Pakistan protests: Pitch rises
Opposition leader Nawaz Sharif defied house arrest to rally protesters in Lahore Sunday.
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An agreement forged between Zardari's late wife, Benazzir Bhutto, and Mr. Sharif, called for the removal of that presidential authority as well as the restoration of judges sacked by Musharraf. Neither promise has been fulfilled by Zardari, who took over PPP leadership after his wife was assassinated in late 2007.Skip to next paragraph
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"The system has not changed, only the faces have changed. People don't respect the legitimacy of the government, and it doesn't matter if it was an elected government," says Rasul Bakhsh Rais, a professor of political science at the Lahore University of Management Sciences.
Sunday's protests suggested the extent of that disillusionment is widespread – though it may be mostly concentrated in Punjab Province, where Lahore and the capital, Islamabad, are located.
In Lahore, support for Sharif drew out backers of his PML-N party, who thronged his car after he broke free from house arrest. Other parties also turned out, from the religious Jamaat-i-Islami to the Communist Party.
At midday, police began firing tear gas shells, dispersing crowds, who then regrouped. Some protesters retaliated by kicking police vehicles.
Pressure from the protests resulted in the resignation of Lahore's deputy attorney general. Within the PPP, three high-profile members have departed since the lawyer's "long march" began Thursday. The most dramatic departure came Friday when Information Minister Sherry Rehman left the government without explanation. Ms. Rehman resigned soon after cable channel Geo reported efforts by the government to block and move its signal.
So far, though, there hasn't been a mass exodus of PPP senior members. Even the head of the lawyers movement, Ahsan Aitzaz, said Sunday that he remains in the party.
Most political parties in Pakistan are not internally democratic enough to allow for a revolt against an unpopular leader, says Mr. Rizvi. "The party leadership is confined to a small group of people," he says, noting that parties have "feudal" loyalties to personalities.
Nor are other parties jockeying to take down the PPP, perhaps recognizing that such a power struggle could bring the Army back, says Rizvi. That shows some maturing of the parties, he adds.
That leaves the people in the streets as the final check on the government, he continues. "This is also a phase of checks and balances. These protesters are demanding only what the PPP had promised."
The government will either have to accept those demands, says Professor Rais, or risk paralyzing the country indefinitely and "hope that foreign observers and the military will remain neutral."
Over the weekend US officials, including Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, spoke with leaders here about the situation. "They are telling them to get their act together, so I don't think this confrontation will last long," says Rais.