Sharif's brother set to lead Pakistan's Punjab

( Reuter )- Pakistan's former prime minister Nawaz Sharif , overthrown by President Pervez Musharraf in a coup, nominated his brother Shahbaz Sharif on Sunday to return to his old job as head of Punjab province.

The nomination is the latest product of an alliance between the Sharifs and Asif Ali Zardari , widower of assassinated former prime minister Benazir Bhutto and her successor as head of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP).

The alliance has left Musharraf looking increasingly isolated. There is mounting speculation in the nuclear-armed Muslim nation that U.S. ally Musharraf could be forced out of power within weeks or months.

"With the permission of Mr. Asif Ali Zardari , Shahbaz Sharif , God willing, will be the chief minister of Punjab," Nawaz Sharif said at a news conference with the PPP leader in Lahore, the capital of Punjab, the most influential of Pakistan's four provinces.

Musharraf overthrew prime minister Sharif when he took power as a general in a 1999 coup. The brothers were arrested and later banished, but returned in November after Musharraf ceded to pressure from Saudi King Abdullah to let them return before national and provincial assembly polls.

Together with the PPP, they defeated Musharraf's political allies in the February 18 vote.

The PPP is leading a national coalition government, backed by the Sharifs ' Pakistan Muslim League ( Nawaz ), or PML-N, and two smaller regional parties.

The PML-N emerged the biggest party in the Punjab assembly, and with the PPP's support will lead the government in the country's richest and most populous province.

It is the first time that Pakistan's two main political parties have formed a government together. The country has been run by generals for more than half the time since it was carved out of the partition of India in 1947.

"We'll change the system. Democracy is at work. I don't think this has happened before," Zardari told the news conference.

Musharraf stepped down as army chief in November to hold on to the presidency, and without military backing, he is at the mercy of his old enemies, analysts say.

While the Sharifs want him gone sooner rather than later, Zardari aims to see how relations between the president, parliament and the judiciary evolve, as he wants the transition of power to be as smooth as possible, according to a source close to the PPP leader.

The Sharifs were barred from standing in the election and Shahbaz will have to win a by-election for a seat in the Punjab assembly to qualify as chief minister, the post he held before the coup. A stop-gap appointment will be made in the meantime.

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