Islamabad, Nov. 19: A candidate from the Pakistan Muslim League was elected speaker of the National Assembly today, indicating the pro-military party had a strong chance of forming the first civilian government since a military coup in 1999.
Choudhry Amir Hussain of the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid-e-Azam secured 167 votes while his nearest rival from the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) got 80. The Pakistan Peoples Party Parliamentarian (PPPP) nominee got 71 votes.
The results show that the government supported PML(Q) has gained some support from a group of at least ten members of the PPP.
None of the three main political groups won a clear majority in October’s general elections, and talks have dragged on for more than a month in an effort to build a stable coalition.
After failing to come to a deal with the Islamic alliance, the Muslim League, which won 118 seats in the 342-member Assembly, has been trying to woo smaller parties into a coalition, as well as attract defectors from its rivals.
Today’s vote showed it has had some success in this effort, but a government excluding both Bhutto’s Peoples Party and the Islamic groups would have a thin majority at best.
The vote to elect a new Prime Minister is expected to take place later this week.
Parliament opened on Saturday for the first time since the October 1999 coup with Bhutto’s party and the Islamic groups saying they would oppose President Pervez Musharraf’s controversial constitutional changes that include his power to dismiss parliament. Both parties’ candidates for the speaker’s role reiterated that call today after losing the vote.
“From a military government, we are heading towards democracy and we have to protect the 1973 constitution,” said the Islamist alliance’s Liaquat Baluch. “It is the responsibility of every political party to reject all those amendments.”
The Peoples Party’s Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan called on the new speaker to support democracy. “If we want the supremacy of the parliament, then we will have to adopt democratic traditions,” he said.
The Lahore High Court, which has ordered the release of Lashkar-e-Toiba leader Hafeez Saeed, has sought a report on the detention of JaisheMohammad chief Masood Azhar, one of the three militants freed by India to end the Kandahar hijacking in 1999.
The Multan bench of the Lahore High Court sought a report from the magistrate in Dera Ghazi Khan on a petition filed by Azhar, who is lodged in Central Jail, Bahawalpur.