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Commonwealth thwarts Pak re-entry

London, Nov. 1 (Reuters): Commonwealth foreign ministers upheld Pakistan’s suspension from their organisation today, saying last month’s elections had not completed the transfer of power from military to civilian rule.

Speaking after a meeting in London, they said it was too soon to judge how much control President Pervez Musharraf, whose 1999 bloodless coup triggered Pakistan’s suspension from the group of mainly ex-British colonies, would hand over to Parliament. “The benchmark for Pakistan is the restoration of democracy,” Botswana’s foreign minister Mompati Merafhe, chairman of the eight-strong Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG), said.

“No government is in place. We don’t know how many of the executive powers held by the President are going to be transferred to the elected members of Parliament,” he said.

Ministers agreed to maintain Pakistan’s suspension from the councils of the Commonwealth — the decision-making bodies of the 54-nation organisation — until they had a clearer picture of “the role and functioning of democratic institutions”.

The decision followed a report from Commonwealth observers which gave only qualified approval to the October 10 polls, declaring events on the election day “credible” but the overall process unfair.

“We’re not calling for new elections. We’re saying it could have been better,” Commonwealth Secretary-General Don McKinnon said. “In the meantime, let’s see a government formed”.

Australia’s foreign minister Alexander Downer, voicing Western hopes that Pakistan would be offered some encouragement at today’s meeting, had said he expected ministers to recognise the “big step” it had taken down the path towards democracy, even if it was too early to consider its re-admission. But the CMAG statement offered little comfort for Islamabad.

Diplomats said any suggestion of easing the pressure on Pakistan won short shrift from arch-foe neighbour India and African ministers, who argued that it would smack of double standards while Zimbabwe was kept out in the cold.

Candidate for PM post

The pro-military party, Pakistan Muslim League Quaid-e-Azam (PML-QA), that won most seats in Pakistan’s October general election announced its candidate for the Prime Minister’s post today as rival parties haggled over their shares of a possible coalition.

The party nominated Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali, 58, a veteran politician from the southern province of Baluchistan bordering Afghanistan. The parliamentary leader of PML-QA, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, told a news conference that the party had unanimously decided on Jamali.

“Jamali will be our candidate for the Prime Ministership,” Hussain said.

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