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Supporters of assassinated opposition leader Benazir Bhutto dance as they celebrate the party's victory in the general election in Karachi, Pakistan, on Tuesday.

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — The party set to form Pakistan's next government vowed Tuesday to make the country's judiciary fully independent.

The Pakistan People's Party's co-chairman, also the widower of assassinated opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, said a weak judiciary had been manipulated by dictators to scuttle democracy in the past.

The party will take steps to strengthen the judiciary "by radically altering the mode of appointments of judges and (by) giving it financial and administrative independence," Asif Ali Zardari said in a party statement.

In November, President Pervez Musharraf removed Supreme Court judges seen as a challenge to his continued rule, including ex-Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, who is under house arrest.

Zardari's statement did not say whether the party plans to reinstate the judges.

The PPP's likely partner in a coalition, the party of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, wants Chaudhry's immediate reinstatement as Pakistan's top judge.

Judges are now appointed by the president, and Zardari did not say how his party plans to make those changes. He said "it was incumbent upon the new democratic dispensation to strengthen the institution, rather than individuals."

The PPP won 87 seats in the Feb. 18 elections to become the largest party in the 272-member Parliament. Sharif's party came second with 67 seats.

Public anger against Musharraf, largely fueled by his crackdown on the judiciary, led to his allies being soundly defeated in the vote.

Sharif's party and the PPP say there are no differences between them when it comes to the judiciary.

"We want to do it through the Parliament so that the institution of judiciary gets completely separated from the influence of the executive, and is made independent once and for all," PPP leader Makhdoom Amin Fahim told The Associated Press.

Pakistan's lawyers plan to demonstrate in Islamabad on March 9 to press for Chaudhry's reinstatement on the first anniversary of his firing, which was initially quashed by other Supreme Court judges in July.

Musharraf was re-elected in October, and the following month he swept the Supreme Court away by declaring emergency rule — apparently because the judges were poised to rule his re-election unconstitutional.


Associated Press reporters Zarar Khan in Islamabad and Asif Shahzad in Lahore contributed to this report.