PAKISTAN

Pakistani lawmakers to resign in bid to force Nawaz Sharif out

Campaign by former cricketer alienates other opposition parties and fails to get mass support

PUBLISHED : Monday, 18 August, 2014, 9:20pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 19 August, 2014, 12:17am

Lawmakers from Pakistan's third-largest party will resign from parliament to try to force Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to step down, a party official said yesterday.

Led by former cricketer Imran Khan, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) controls 34 of the National Assembly's 342 seats.

The party would also withdraw from three out of four provincial assemblies in Pakistan, senior party official Shah Mehmood Qureshi said.

The fourth province, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, was under PTI control and officials there would not resign, he said. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is the heartland of the Taliban insurgency and plagued with militant violence and criminal gangs.

Khan accuses Sharif of rigging elections last year. Sharif won a landslide victory in the first democratic transfer of power in the coup-plagued country.

Qureshi said the party was just waiting for three more lawmakers to hand their resignations to him and then he would deliver them as a group.

On Friday, Khan and fiery cleric Tahir ul-Qadri led tens of thousands of supporters into the capital to demand Sharif's resignation, vowing to camp on the streets until he stepped down.

Sharif has refused to go but said he would listen to the protesters' complaints about vote-rigging and corruption.

On Sunday, Khan appealed to the people to stop paying utility bills and taxes to the current government, accusing Sharif of plundering the national wealth to enrich his business empire.

But the politician was left looking increasingly isolated as mass support failed to materialise and other opposition parties refused to rally to his call.

Former president Asif Ali Zardari, co-chairman of the Pakistan People's Party - the largest opposition party - criticised Khan's willingness to use "unconstitutional means".

"Democracy and nation will not be served by calls for civil disobedience nor by a stubborn refusal by any side to engage in a meaningful dialogue on political issues," Zardari said.

In response to the protests, the authorities have deployed tens of thousands of security personnel on the streets of the capital and blocked main roads with shipping containers, causing major disruption.

Sirajul Haq, head of the religious political party Jamaat-e-Islami, who has played a key mediating role since the two protest marches began on Thursday, urged a negotiated end to the stand-off.

"We are against any move which can derail democracy. We want to resolve all the matters within the framework of law and constitution," he said.

International observers rated the general election, in which Khan's party came third in its best ever performance, as free and credible.

Reuters, Agence France-Presse