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Pakistan Prime Minister Unpopular

The military coup in Pakistan comes at a time of rising unpopularity of its Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif. John Howard reports.

Although Sharif won elections in 1997 with a solid two-thirds majority, his policies are described by critics as heavy-handed. Sharif has spent much of his time in power consolidating his power.

He has methodically removed rivals from positions. He forced the resignation of President Farooq Leghari after he publicly criticised Sharif's government and he forced the resignation of the Supreme Court chief justice when he pressed ahead with charges of contempt against Sharif.

He also forced the resignation of Army Chief, General Pervaiz Musharraf's predecessor, Gen. Jehangir Keramet, after he had called for a National Security Council that would give the army a more direct role in government policy making.

He dismissed the Sindh provincial government when it differed with his government and imposed direct federal rule which alienated the southern province.

Sharif came down hard with a heavy hand to quell protests by opposition politicians. Coup leader Musharraf said in his speech to the nation that Sharif was driving the country to ruin.

Analysts say chances of a quick return to democracy are slim. Most expect Musharraf to establish an interim government of technocrats and former politicians to run the country for at least two years before contemplating general elections. There is no word whether there will be any reaction from Sharif's supporters.

The constitution, however, has a requirement that elections be held within three months of a government's removal from power.

Pakistan has been ruled by the military for 25 of its 52-year history.

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