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Friday, 25 August, 2000, 14:50 GMT 15:50 UK
Sharif's party facing split
Kulsoom Nawaz
Mr Sharif's wife is leading the campaign for her husband
By Zafar Abbas in Islamabad

In Pakistan, the deposed Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's party, the Muslim League, is going through a serious crisis.

Open rebellion by some of its senior members suggests that it may soon split up into at least two factions.

Sharif
Nawaz Sharif: Banned from holding office
The latest blow to Nawaz Sharif's control over party affairs came from his one-time trusted colleague, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, who declared that the time had come to change the leader.

Justifying his latest campaign, Shujaat Hussain - former Interior Minister in Mr Sharif's government - said that after the government's decision to ban convicted politicians from holding office in their respective parties, Mr Sharif has in effect ceased to be the party president.

Unlike many other politicians, he did not criticise the new law.

Instead, he asked the party's general council to elect a new leader, and even suggested that a senior member, Raja Zafarul Haq, should be elected.

Differences

Differences within the Muslim League over Nawaz Sharif's way of handling party affairs have existed since the party was thrown out of power in last October's military coup.

Pro-Nawaz Sharif
Kulsoom Nawaz
Ahsan Iqbal
Anti-Nawaz Sharif
Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain
Mian Azhar
Ejazul Haq
A sizeable group of senior members like Mian Azhar and Ejazul Haq, had already been campaigning to elect a new leader, but they were unable to stand against Sharif's loyalists, who were being led by the ousted prime minister's wife, Kulsoom Nawaz.

However, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain's latest outburst may prove to be the final blow to the unity of the party.

Apart from Mr Sharif, and some members of his family, Shujaat Hussain is perhaps the most influential figure in the Muslim League, and his call means that several other members may also join the anti-Sharif camp in the party.

Supporters angry

The pro-Sharif camp in the party has reacted strongly to Shujaat Hussain's statement.

Ahsan Iqbal, a former MP, who earlier in the week organised a sizeable meeting of anti-Shujaat Hussain members in Lahore, has accused the former interior minister of playing into the hands of the military rulers.

He said there was still enough support for Mr Sharif in the party, and the attempts to change the leadership would be strongly resisted.

But many observers say such statements from the two sides prove that there are at least two distinct groups in the Muslim League, and it is only a matter of time before the party formally splits up.

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See also:

09 Aug 00 | South Asia
Politics ban for Sharif and Bhutto
22 Jul 00 | South Asia
Sharif convicted of corruption
13 May 99 | South Asia
Bhutto appeal rejected
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