Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf resigned from office Monday before his political opponents could begin impeachment proceedings against him, saying he had "worked for the country in good faith."
Musharraf made the announcement in a nationally televised address a day after a committee of Pakistan's ruling coalition finalized a list of impeachment charges against the former army chief. The charges included violating the constitution and misconduct.
During his lengthy address, Musharraf dismissed the charges against him, calling them "baseless" and "a fraud against the nation." He said he was stepping down because he did not want Pakistan's "dignity to suffer."
"After consulting my legal advisers and nearest political supporters … in the interest of the nation, I resign from my post today," he said. "I hand over my future to the people's hands, and let them do justice."
Musharraf used his speech to defend his political and military record, citing his handling of Pakistan's economy, as well as education and infrastructure programs he instituted during his nine-year reign as president.
"For 44 years, I have protected this nation without thinking of my life," he said. "I hope the nation and the people will forgive my mistakes."
Choice for successor uncertain
Musharraf, a former general, had been facing intense pressure to quit from political opponents who defeated his allies in February's parliamentary elections.
Musharraf said he would submit his resignation to the speaker of the National Assembly later Monday but it was not immediately clear whether it would become effective the same day. The chairman of Pakistan's Senate, Mohammedmian Soomro, will take over as acting president when Musharraf steps down, Law Minister Farooq Naek said.
But it remains an open question whom parliament will elect to succeed Musharraf, partly because the ruling coalition has vowed to strip the presidency of much of its power.
There is speculation that the leaders of the two main ruling coalition parties — Asif Ali Zardari and Nawaz Sharif — are interested in the role, although neither has openly acknowledged as much.
After Musharraf made his announcement, television footage showed groups of people celebrating in the streets in towns across Pakistan.
"It is very pleasing to know that Musharraf is no more," said Mohammed Saeed, a shopkeeper among a crowd of people dancing to drum beats and hugging each other at an intersection in the northwestern city of Peshawar.
Pakistan's stock market and currency both rose strongly on hopes that the country was bound for political stability.
Came to power in 1999 coup
Musharraf, a key U.S. ally in the war against the Taliban and al-Qaeda, came to power in a 1999 bloodless coup. He stepped down as army chief last year to run for a third term in office but still maintains close ties to the military.
His reputation suffered last year when he ousted dozens of judges and imposed emergency rule. He said at the time the measures were necessary to protect Pakistan from extremism and political instability. Upon news of Musharraf's resignation, lawyers began pressuring the ruling parties to restore the ousted judges.
Following Musharraf's address, Information Minister Sherry Rehman called the president's departure "a victory for democratic forces."
"Today, the shadow of dictatorship that has prevailed for long over this country, that chapter has been closed," Rehman said.
Musharraf could still be charged
Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said leaders of the ruling coalition would discuss later Monday whether to prosecute Musharraf in court on charges that were being planned for the impeachment process.
'A step in the right direction. Pakistan's return to parliamentary democracy, an independent judiciary, and a system based on the rule of law is welcome.'
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Sharif's party insists he should be tried for treason, which carries a maximum punishment of death.
"The crimes of Musharraf against the nation, against the judiciary, against democracy and against rule of law in the country cannot be forgiven by any party or individual," party spokesman Ahsan Iqbal said Monday.
But several Pakistani media agencies reported Musharraf and the coalition were discussing an agreement that would enable him to avoid facing charges by stepping down.
If a deal is made, it is unclear whether Musharraf would stay in Pakistan and live at his farm in the outskirts of Islamabad, or go into exile in a country like Saudi Arabia or Turkey.
Earlier this month, coalition party leader Zardari, the widower of assassinated former prime minister Benazir Bhutto who now heads the Pakistan Peoples Party, announced he and his partner Sharif, the former prime minister, had agreed to seek the impeachment proceedings in parliament.
Musharraf accused the coalition of creating an "atmosphere of confrontation and vendetta" against him.
"Unfortunately, all my appeals for reconciliation … all my efforts failed in this direction," he said Monday.
The ruling coalition, which holds a majority in Pakistan's parliament since its victory in February's elections, had expressed confidence in recent days it would be able to get two-thirds of the vote in both houses and have Musharraf removed.