ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – The winners of Pakistan's election were assembling their lawmakers Wednesday for the first time to press President Pervez Musharraf to convene what promises to be a hostile new Parliament.
The party of slain opposition leader Benazir Bhutto and another former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, trounced Musharraf's allies in the Feb. 18 parliamentary ballot, fanning calls for the U.S.-allied president to quit.
On Wednesday, more than 160 lawmakers from the two winning parties, plus those of a smaller group that triumphed in the insurgency-plagued northwest, were to meet over lunch at an upscale hotel in the capital, Islamabad.
"It is a public demonstration of the strength of the democratic forces in the Parliament and their determination to push ahead with their agenda," said Farhatullah Babar, spokesman for Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party.
While no timeframe is laid out in the much-amended constitution, Babar said Parliament should be convened in early March. "There is no escape from it. I don't think Musharraf can in any way delay that."
The three parties meeting Wednesday were expected to form a coalition government with Makhdoom Amin Fahim, a longtime Bhutto lieutenant, as prime minister.
The new Parliament will have to decide whether to work with Musharraf, whose political support crumbled after he imposed a six-week state of emergency last year.
It will debate whether to reinstate Supreme Court judges ousted under the emergency just before they were due to rule on the legality of Musharraf, who quit as army chief in November, staying on as president.
Sharif is pushing for the immediate restoration of the judges, including Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, who has been under house arrest for nearly four months.
However, the People's Party has left open whether the judges must return -- a position that has prompted speculation that it is willing to compromise with Musharraf.
Bhutto's widower Asif Ali Zardari, the co-chairman of the party, said Tuesday that it intends to take steps "to strengthen the institution of judiciary by radically altering the mode of appointments of judges and (by) giving it financial and administrative independence."
Judges are currently appointed by the president, and Zardari did not elaborate on how his party plans to change the system. He said "it was incumbent upon the new democratic dispensation to strengthen the institution, rather than individuals," according to a party statement.