Pakistan PM Sees No Chance of Military Coup

ISLAMABAD -- Pakistan's prime minister on Tuesday rejected calls by opposition politicians for midterm elections and said there was no chance of the country's powerful army seizing power as it has often done in the past.

The government of President Asif Ali Zardari is unpopular among many Pakistanis and is under pressure from the Supreme Court over corruption allegations. It has been dogged by speculation and rumors that it is on its way out almost from the day it took office.

Zardari, the husband of slain former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, insists he will see out his five-year term until it ends in 2013. His supporters note that his party has a majority in parliament, meaning there is no constitutional way of ending it early.

Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani said in parliament on Tuesday that the army was "pro-democracy" and would not impose martial law. He said those calling for the dissolution of parliament and fresh elections were trying to break up the country.

The army has seized power from civilian governments several times before in Pakistan's turbulent history, but many commentators say it does not currently have the appetite to stage a coup. However, it remains a powerful political force that would have to endorse any move to get rid of Zardari.

Zardari is head of the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party, of which Gilani is also a member.

Opposition spokesman Sadiqul Farooq said the government had failed to improve the economy, restore peace and provide even basic facilities to the people. "The government will not survive. You will see midterm elections soon," he predicted.

Despite Farooq's remarks, opposition leader Nawaz Sharif has so far avoided directly calling for Zardari to step down or actively leading a campaign to destabilize the government.

Many analyst say Sharif is well positioned to win the next elections but is no rush to take power, especially given the perilous state of the country. He may prefer to see the government limp along to 2013 and win those polls, untainted by charges of bringing down an elected government midterm.