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Pro-Pervez party eyes Islamic alliance

Islamabad, Nov. 4 (Reuters): The pro-military party that won most seats in Pakistan’s elections secured the support of a group of smaller parties today, but remained short of the majority needed to form the first civilian government in three years.

The Pakistan Muslim League Quaid-e-Azam (PML-QA) said it was hopeful of a deal with the right-wing Islamic alliance holding the balance of power, which said at the weekend it was able to form a government with anti-military parties.

Speaking after securing the backing of seven minor parties, PML-QA power broker Chaudhry Shujaat Hussein said it was up to the religious parties of the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) to spell out the obstacles to a deal.

Political observers say the Islamic alliance’s insistence on leading any future government and its tough stance against constitutional changes made by President Pervez Musharraf before the October 10 polls have prevented PML-QA securing a deal.

“The ball is in the MMA’s court,” said Chaudhry. “They have to identify the clauses in the legal framework order on which they have objections. I am hopeful we will find some solution.”

“Despite their strong statements against us, we want to take them along.”

The pledge of support for the PML-QA from the six-party National Alliance and one other small party today would bring the number of pro-military seats in the Assembly to 136, still short of the 172 needed for a simple majority in the 342-seat lower house. Parliament is due to elect a prime minister next week.

The anti-military Alliance for the Restoration of Democracy (ARD), that includes the parties of former prime ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, said it had agreed to go into coalition with the Islamic religious parties.

It also said it would back their leader Fazal-ur-Rehman — a hardliner who was jailed last year for leading protests against the US-led war on the Taliban in Afghanistan — as premier.

“We have settled all issues and there is a consensus among us,” Nawabzada Nasrullah, head of the multi-party ARD told a news conference today. “It’s a natural alliance.”

However, he said the ARD was still awaiting a formal endorsement of the deal from Bhutto, who appointed Rehman to head a key parliamentary committee during her rule.

The religious parties rode a wave of anti-Western sentiment stemming from Musharraf’s support for the US-led war on terror to make stunning gains in the election.

The news of the coalition agreement alarmed stock market investors today and the benchmark Karachi Stock Exchange index ended down 3.95 per cent.

“Investors are worried about prospects of a new government headed by Islamic parties,” said a broker at I.P. Securities in Karachi.

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