- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 20, 2002

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan Pakistan's parliament yesterday elected two lawmakers from President Pervez Musharraf's party to be speaker and deputy speaker, a sign the military ruler's supporters are likely to emerge at the head of a coalition government.
Still, efforts to cobble together a ruling coalition have come up empty, leaving the nation without a prime minister more than five weeks after the Oct. 10 vote.
Gen. Musharraf called on lawmakers to meet tomorrow to pick a prime minister, and an agreement is expected at that time.
Lawmakers chose Chaudhry Amir Hussain, a politician loyal to Gen. Musharraf, as their speaker, and elected another pro-Musharraf legislator, Sardar Muhammad Yaqub, as deputy. Each man won by a wide margin.
The three main parties the pro-Musharraf Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid-e-Azam group, the Pakistan People's Party of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and a bloc of hard-line Islamic parties have been negotiating since the elections in an effort to form a government.
None of the groups won a majority in the vote, but the religious coalition, known as the United Action Forum, has been acting as power broker, holding talks with the pro-Musharraf party and the Pakistan People's Party.
If the Islamic bloc does become part of a ruling coalition, it is sure to set off alarm bells in Washington, which counts Pakistan as a key ally in the war against terrorism. The religious bloc parlayed a fiercely anti-American platform into its strongest election showing ever and has pledged to expel U.S. troops and bring an Islamic revolution to Pakistan.
Yesterday a member of the Islamic bloc interrupted the session to pray for Aimal Khan Kasi, a Pakistani executed in Virginia last week for murdering two CIA employees in 1993.
"May his soul be blessed and his family have patience," said lawmaker Hafiz Hussain Ahmed. "May those who handed him over [to the Americans] be destroyed."
The opening of parliament, which convened Saturday for the first time since Gen. Musharraf seized power in a 1999 coup, has been hailed as a return to democracy for Pakistan.
But Gen. Musharraf has pushed through a series of constitutional changes that guarantee his ultimate authority.
The military ruler, who was sworn in as president on Saturday for a five-year term, has pledged to hand over day-to-day rule of the country to the legislators, but he retains the right to dissolve parliament and sack the prime minister. His pre-eminence in foreign policy is also not in doubt, as Gen. Musharraf will head a military-controlled Security Council that must vet all major national issues.
Still, the return of some semblance of democratic rule has been welcomed by Pakistanis and the international community.
Lawmakers, yesterday wandered the halls of the parliament chamber, a welcome sight in a country that has been ruled by decree for three years.
Many say the new speaker will be a positive force in keeping a coalition government together, though his tenure did not get off to a great start. Even before his election was finalized, lawmakers from Mrs. Bhutto's party and the Islamist coalition walked out in protest, saying the vote count was rigged. They later returned.

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