| Women members, Sumeira Malik (left) and her sister Ayala, at the National Assembly in Islamabad on Saturday. (AP/PTI)
Islamabad, Nov. 16: Pakistan’s parliament met for the first time in three years today without agreement on a coalition and with its powers limited by President Pervez Musharraf, who was sworn in for five more years.
As many as 324 members of the 342-seat House were administered the oath by former speaker Illahi Bakhsh Soomro. The new assembly building has been renovated to accommodate the additional members.
For the first time in Pakistan’s history, 73 women members were sworn in along with their male counterparts. Some were directly elected while sixty have been elected on reserved seats.
Earlier, Musharraf was sworn in as President for a five-year term which he won through a referendum in April this year. Musharraf yesterday revived the 1973 constitution he suspended on October 12, 1999, after dismissing then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in a bloodless coup.
However, the constitution is amended giving Musharraf the power to dismiss parliament and the military a role in overseeing the work of a new government.
The Assembly looked set for a stormy session, with rival parties split both over who should lead the government and Musharraf’s constitutional changes.
Right-wing Islamists holding the balance of power immediately set the tone, insisting in angry shouts from the floor on taking oath under the constitution as it stood before it was amended.
“We want to make it clear that we are taking the oath under the original 1973 constitution,” said Hafiz Hussain Ahmed, one of the leaders of the six-party Islamic alliance.
Illahi Baksh Soomro insisted not a single comma of the original oath in the 1973 law had been changed and the swearing in went ahead.
Musharraf secured his fresh term through an April referendum analysts say was heavily rigged in his favour. The election was also controversial as key figures, including Sharif and another former Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto, were barred from standing.
The pro-military Pakistan Muslim League secured most seats — 118 — but not enough to rule alone.
Islamists worry West
It has been trying to form a coalition with the Islamists, who fought on a strong anti-US platform and secured a surprising 60 seats.
But the religious parties have insisted that their candidate, Fazalur Rehman, a hardline cleric who supported the former Taliban regime in Afghanistan, should be premier, a prospect that alarmed markets and proponents of the war on terror.
Rehman said yesterday the alliance could not back the League’s Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali as premier as he had dissolved a provincial Assembly in the past and could not be expected to defend parliament against the military in future.
Rehman said today talks were still going on with the League on a common stand on the constitutional changes.
“We hope we will reach some understanding on these issues,” he said.
“Then we will talk about formation of the government.”