updated 6/16/2008 1:21:43 PM ET 2008-06-16T17:21:43

The chief of Pakistan's ruling coalition said Monday the country's next head of state will be from his party.

The comments by Asif Ali Zardari at a gathering of hundreds of cheering supporters in the eastern city of Lahore indicate how political pressure is growing for President Pervez Musharraf to quit.

"That day is not far away when ... the (Pakistan) People's Party will choose the president, God willing," Zardari told supporters who danced and chanted "Long live Bhutto!"

Zardari became of leader his party after his wife, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, was assassinated in a gun and suicide bombing attack in December.

Opponents of Musharraf, including Zardari's party, won elections in February and have called for the president to step down. Zardari's party leads the coalition government and is seen as the power behind current Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani.

Since the new civilian administration came to power more than two months ago, Musharraf, a longtime close U.S. ally in the war against terrorism, has taken a back seat in government but remains an unpopular figure.

Demanding Musharraf's ouster
Zardari is widely seen as wary of confrontation with the former army strongman, who still enjoys the support of the White House, but he has recently sharpened his rhetoric against Musharraf.

Zardari's party is proposing amendments to the constitution to strip the president of most of his powers but has stopped short of saying whether it will seek to impeach him.

Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, whose party is a junior partner in the ruling coalition, has demanded Musharraf's ouster and that he be put on trial for allegedly subverting the constitution.

Zardari's speech Monday was his first since lawyers backed by Sharif staged a mass rally in Islamabad on Friday to campaign against Musharraf and press for the restoration of top judges he fired.

Zardari made only passing reference to the protest and did not mention the judges. He made vague reference to pressing for democratic reforms, promising his party will free Pakistan from the "control of usurpers." He did not elaborate on who the usurpers were.

"For our coming generations, we have promised that we will turn Pakistan into a democratic state. But how this will be done, when this will be done ... we, the Pakistan Peoples Party, will take a decision on when to take this step ahead, when we have to do this job," he said.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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