Pakistan's prime minister Friday appealed for backing from lawmakers, saying they had to choose between democracy and dictatorship amid a confrontation with the military that could see his ouster.
ISLAMABAD- Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani told MPs democracy must survive, regardless of whether or not leaders withstood legal challenges to their rule, over corruption claims and a memo seeking US help in curbing the army's power.
"Now we have to decide whether we should have democracy or dictatorship in this country. If we have committed any mistakes, it does not mean that democracy or parliament should be punished," Gilani told parliamentarians.
Clashes with the military and with the judiciary over two major court cases implicating government figures have this week raised tensions in the nuclear-armed nation of 174 million people and triggered fears of another coup.
A small partner in Gilani's fragile ruling coalition, the Awami National Party, lodged a resolution to be debated on Monday, backing a strong separation of powers of the government, military and judiciary.
Pakistan has been under military dictatorships for about half its history since independence in 1947, its civilian leaders thrown out in three coups.
But despite current tensions, analysts say another coup is unlikely and early elections, possibly in the first half of this year, are a more plausible outcome.
The "Memogate" scandal centres on an unsigned note allegedly sent by an aide of President Asif Ali Zardari to the US military last May, apparently to avert a possible coup after the killing of Osama bin Laden by the US in Pakistan.
The memo pitted the powerful army against Zardari's weak civilian administration and the Supreme Court is now tasked with deciding if the government endorsed the note, and if so, if it can remain in power.
The army on Wednesday angrily reacted to criticism by the prime minister over the investigation into the memo, warning of "potential grievous consequences" for the country.
A meeting of corps commanders and principal staff officers was held at the army's headquarters in Rawalpindi on Thursday to discuss "the prevailing situation and security operations in the country".
Gilani has also called on Saturday the meeting of defence committee of the cabinet which comprises ministers and military chiefs, a government official told AFP.
"The committee is likely to discuss the matters related to defence and national security," the official said.
He declined to comment when asked whether the meeting would help defuse the tension between the civilian and military leadership.
The government is due to set out its case to the Memogate commission and to a separate long-running corruption case in the Supreme Court on Monday.
Zardari went to Dubai to attend a wedding as the latest spat unfolded, arriving back in Islamabad early Friday, officials said.
The president spent more than a week in Dubai for hospital treatment last month, which triggered a frenzy of speculation and coup rumours.
Opposition leaders under former premier Nawaz Sharif later met and called for general elections to be held under an interim administration as soon as possible over the government's refusal to listen to the courts, Pakistan Muslim League-N party spokesman Ahsan Iqbal said.