Deal reached on Pakistani judges

From the Chicago Tribune

The governing parties of Pakistan apparently have agreed on how to reinstate judges fired by President Pervez Musharraf last fall, potentially resolving the most contentious issue facing them and preventing their coalition from collapsing.

Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, leader of the second-largest party in the coalition, said at a news conference in Lahore that parliament would vote on a resolution to restore the judges May 12.

It is not yet clear how the restoration of the judges will affect Musharraf, whose election in October to a five-year presidential term has been disputed in court. Musharraf, a key U.S. ally, fired the country's top judges when he declared an emergency in November.

The agreement to restore them to their posts is regarded by some as an attempt to dilute the power of the Supreme Court by combining the reinstated judges with the pro-Musharraf judges sworn in after Musharraf declared the emergency.

Despite predictions that a restored Supreme Court could oust Musharraf, back-room deal-making could ensure that Musharraf would hold on to the presidency, at least in the near term, political analysts said.

Presidential spokesman Rashid Qureshi said Musharraf agreed with an opinion of the attorney general that the judges could be restored with a constitutional amendment. The president "would have no issue with anything that is constitutionally correct," he said.

But Sharif said parliament would restore the judges with a resolution, which requires a simple majority vote, as opposed to a constitutional amendment, which requires a two-thirds majority in both the House and the Senate. Such a large majority would be difficult to achieve.

The agreement between Sharif's party and the Pakistan People's Party of slain former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto came shortly after the expiration Wednesday of parliament's self-imposed deadline to restore the judges.

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