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Jockeying delays Pak House session

Islamabad, Nov. 6 (Reuters): Pakistan’s military government today delayed the opening of parliament for one week amid ongoing jockeying between political parties seeking to form a coalition government as the country returns to civilian rule.

The postponement, announced on state television following a Cabinet meeting, raises doubts over the likelihood of a coalition between the anti-military party of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and a group of far-Right religious parties.

Bhutto officials had complained that any postponement would indicate opposition within the military to the proposed coalition, combining the fiercely critical Bhutto with religious parties opposed to President Pervez Musharraf’s support for the US-led war on terror in Pakistan and neighbouring Afghanistan.

“Because of the request of many political parties and due to some administrative reasons, the session of the newly-elected National Assembly will start with a delay of one week,” state PTV announced.

It added that the exact day of the opening session would be named at a later date. Political commentators said one major stumbling block to the coalition was the proposal to name Fazal-ur-Rehman, a conservative leader within the religious bloc, as Prime Minister.

They said support for his nomination by the Alliance for the Restoration of Democracy, of which Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party Parliamentarians is a member, had upset leaders within the PPPP and raised concerns over the impact on US-Pakistan relations.

An aide to Rehman, a supporter of the former Taliban rulers of Afghanistan, reacted angrily to the postponement.

“It is against democratic tradition. It is meant to buy smaller parties and to encourage horse-trading,” said Abdul Ghafoor Haideri, secretary-general of Rehman’s Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Islam party.

The pro-military Pakistan Muslim League Quaid-e-Azam party, which won the most seats in the October 10 poll but not enough for a majority, had urged the military government to delay the opening of parliament, originally set for Friday.

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