ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Eighty-three percent of Pakistanis want President Pervez Musharraf to be removed and judges he sacked restored, according to a survey released by the U.S.-based International Republican Institute on Thursday.
Coming three-and-a-half months after a coalition made up of anti-Musharraf parties formed a government, the IRI survey said Nawaz Sharif, the prime minister Musharraf overthrew in 1999, was now the most popular leader, because of the uncompromising position he has taken over the issues.
In contrast, the Pakistan People’s Party of slain former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, which heads the ruling coalition, has been hurt by its ambivalence over the reinstatement of judges and how to tackle Musharraf.
Yet 52 percent of respondents said they were optimistic that things would get better in Pakistan under the new government.
The uncertainty in nuclear-armed Pakistan is worrying Western powers and neighbors in the region, who fear a transition to civilian-led democracy could founder at a time when the threat of Islamist militancy is growing and the economy is floundering.
The country’s benchmark stock index has shed 35 percent from a life high in April, depressed by investors’ worries about the political situation and its impact on the economy.
The survey from the IRI, a U.S. government-funded organization chaired by U.S. presidential contender John McCain, said Musharraf’s job approval ratings had dropped to 11 percent. Only three percent of people surveyed thought he was the best person to handle Pakistan’s problems.
Musharraf’s power has waned and he became politically isolated after his allies were trounced in a general election in February.
Sharif wants to see his usurper impeached for violating the constitution or even tried for treason.
The former premier withdrew his party, the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N), from the cabinet in May after Bhutto’s widower, Asif Ali Zardari who now leads her party, failed to meet a deadline to reinstate the judges.
Conducted between June 1-15, the IRI survey showed that of the 3,484 people, 82 percent say that they like Sharif, up from 36 percent in June 2006 when he trailed Musharraf and Bhutto.
When asked who they would support in a future parliamentary election, PML-N was the choice of 36 percent, up from the 29 percent who said they voted for the party in February election.
Sharif and Zardari disagree on the fate of senior judges Musharraf dismissed when he imposed emergency rule in November to stop the Supreme Court ruling on the legality of his re-election while army chief.
Zardari has proposed a constitutional package that would reduce the president to a figurehead, but possibly give Musharraf legal protection from prosecution to pave the way for him to quit.
Despite Zardari’s hesitancy confronting Musharraf, IRI’s poll found his popularity rating had gone up to 45 percent from 37 percent in the last poll released in February.