The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Musharraf summons Assembly

Islamabad, Nov. 2 (Reuters): Pakistan’s military ruler Gen. Pervez Musharraf today summoned a newly-elected National Assembly to meet next week, even though rival parties still appear unable to finalise a coalition government.

Radio Pakistan said the assembly members elected in October 10 polls would be sworn in at an opening session on Friday.

Interior minister Moinuddin Haider said he was hopeful power would be transferred to an elected Prime Minister by November 14. However, rival political parties have appeared unable to agree yet on the make-up of Pakistan’s first civilian government in three years, or who should lead it.

The pro-military Pakistan Muslim League Quaid-e-Azam (PML-QA) won most seats in the poll but fell well short of the overall majority needed to form a government on its own.

Both the PML-QA and its main rival, the Pakistan People’s Party led by former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto have been trying to woo the Muttahidda Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), an alliance of Right-wing religious groups that unexpectedly emerged from the polls as potential coalition maker.

However, the MMA, which rode a wave of anti-Western feeling over the US-led war on terror in Afghanistan and won an unprecedented 45 seats against just two in the previous polls in 1997, insists it should lead any future government.

Maulana Fazlur Rehman, the MMA’s prime ministerial candidate, said it would be in a position to form a government with a simple majority in the 342-seat house. “We are very positive,” he said. “According to our latest count, we already have 174 seats. These include the PPP and the PML-N as well as some independents.

“Some other people have also pledged their votes to us, but we would like to wait until parliament is convened before disclosing who they are.”

The PML-N, a breakaway faction of the Pakistan Muslim League loyal to former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, is the fourth largest party in the assembly.

Yesterday, its rival, the PML-QA named Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali, 58, a veteran politician from the southwestern province of Baluchistan bordering Afghanistan as its candidate for the prime ministership.

Political sources say any coalition involving both the PML-QA and the PPP, which has the second largest number of seats, appears highly unlikely and PPP leaders said on Thursday they were prepared to sit in Opposition.

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

They said it was too soon to judge how much control Musharraf, whose 1999 bloodless coup triggered Pakistan’s suspension from the group of mainly ex-British colonies, would hand over to parliament.

Musharraf has been strongly criticised for amending the constitution before the election to ensure a major role for the military in overseeing the work of a future government and giving himself the power to dismiss parliament if it becomes unruly.

Pakistan’s foreign ministry said today the decision by Commonwealth ministers showed a lack of understanding of the country’s transition to democracy.

Envoy ordered home

The first Pakistani woman sent overseas as a press attache says she has been suddenly ordered home by the ministry of information without any explanation.

Rizwan Khan, who has been the spokeswoman at Pakistan’s UN mission since September 2000, said the only other female press officer posted overseas, Naila Maqsood, had also been ordered to return home from her post in Hong Kong. “I have not been given any reason for my recall except a fax saying that it was a directive from the chief executive’s office asking me to return immediately,” Khan said.

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