The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Pervez gifts allies time

Islamabad, Nov. 7 (Reuters): The race to form a civilian government to rule Pakistan was wide open today after the military postponed the opening of Parliament, a move seen as buying time for allies of President Pervez Musharraf.

An anti-military party led by former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and a hardline Islamic bloc critical of Musharraf’s pro-US policies appeared to have reached a deal at the weekend to cobble together a majority in the 342-seat National Assembly.

But divisions within Bhutto’s party over the choice of firebrand Islamic leader Fazal-ur-Rehman as Prime Minister and yesterday’s postponement of parliament’s session to next week have made such a coalition look less likely.

Newspapers, commentators and political parties saw the hand of the army behind the delay, and said Musharraf was creating space for the pro-military Pakistan Muslim League Quaid-e-Azam (PML-QA) to cobble together its own coalition.

Dubbed the “king’s party” for its perceived support of the current leadership, the PML-QA won the most seats in the October 10 election, designed to return the country to civilian rule three years after Musharraf seized power in a bloodless coup. But it fell well short of the majority needed to rule alone.

“Behind all this seems to loom the hovering shadow of what is called the establishment,” wrote the Dawn daily newspaper in an editorial. “How to find a way for the military to stay on and yet not give the impression of doing so'”

Musharraf is already under fire from opponents and EU observers for rigging the vote in his favour after he banned key opponents including Bhutto and enhanced his powers.

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