Page last updated at 09:52 GMT, Wednesday, 18 March 2009

New elections chief in Pakistan

Asif Ali Zardari
Mr Zardari may try to form a coalition government in Punjab

Pakistani President Asif Zardari has made his first high-level appointment following the reinstatement of the sacked top judge, Iftikhar Chaudhry.

Mr Zardari has appointed Justice Hamid Mirza as the new chief election commissioner.

The judge is seen as an uncontroversial figure in the legal community and the appointment is unlikely to be contested by the opposition.

But some observers say that the opposition should have been consulted.


They say such that the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) should have been consulted by the governing Pakistan People's Party (PPP) under the terms of an agreement between leaders of the two parties in 2006.

Nawaz Sharif
Mr Sharif's campaign to reinstate the chief justice succeeded at the weekend

The PML-N, led by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, was at the forefront of recent protests which culminated on Monday with the decision of Mr Zardari to re-appoint the sacked chief justice.

Meanwhile President Zardari has met Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain and Chaudhry Pervez Elahi, two top leaders of the PML-Q party that used to support ousted President Pervez Musharraf and is bitterly opposed to the PML-N.

The PML-Q holds the balance of power in the Punjab provincial parliament where the PML-N government collapsed last month.

Former Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif - the brother of Nawaz Sharif - was declared ineligible to hold elected office by the Supreme Court last month because of alleged corruption cases outstanding against him.

Under stress

The BBC's M Ilyas Khan in Islamabad says that the PPP recently indicated that it might try to form a government in Punjab in alliance with the PML-Q.

Iftikhar Chaudhry (centre) celebrates in Islamabad, 16 March
Iftikhar Chaudhry celebrated with his allies in Islamabad on Monday

No individual party has a clear majority n the assembly, although the PML-N is the largest group with about 140 seats, followed by the PPP with 107 seats. The PML-Q holds about 85 seats in the house.

The PML-N originally formed the government in Punjab with the PPP's help but that alliance came under stress because of the dispute over the chief justice.

On Tuesday it was announced that Mr Chaudhry would not have to swear a new oath when he formally returns to office on Sunday.

Mr Chaudhry was reinstated on Monday in his old post in a move which defused a major political crisis threatening President Asif Ali Zardari.

Ten other judges were reinstated immediately, also without new oaths, a presidential spokesman said.

The unrest alarmed Western powers and the US envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan, Richard Holbrooke, hailed the opposition decision to pull back.

Mr Chaudhry and 60 other judges were dismissed by former President Pervez Musharraf in 2007 and most of these were subsequently reinstated.

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