(by David R. Sands, January 11, 2008, WashingtonTimes.com) – Pakistani Ambassador Mahmud Ali Durrani said yesterday that the party allied with President Pervez Musharraf will be prepared to work with any other parties to form a government after critical parliamentary elections Feb. 18.
The vote, already postponed once after the Dec. 27 assassination of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, will be a milestone in the transition from military rule to civilian government by a key U.S. ally in the war on terror.
The Pakistan Muslim League-Q (PML-Q), Mr. Musharraf’s party, “does not rule out any coalition” after the vote, Mr. Durrani told reporters and editors during a visit to The Washington Times.
Although Mrs. Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), now run by her husband and 19-year-old son, Bilawal, is expected to get a boost because of sympathy votes in the wake of her death, polls suggest none of the dozens of parties in the race will win a majority. Intense negotiations to form a governing coalition are considered a near certainty.
Mrs. Bhutto told The Times shortly before her death that her PPP would not consider entering a coalition with Mr. Musharraf’s PML-Q. However, Mr. Durrani said: “No political party is going to be averse to [getting together] with any other party.”
The ambassador stressed that whoever becomes prime minister in the next administration will have the authority to run the government and not be controlled from behind the scenes by Mr. Musharraf. He relinquished his post as army chief of staff late last year after winning the presidency again.
The presidency is more than a ceremonial post, Mr. Durrani said, but “the executive authority under our system rests with the prime minister.”
Under Pakistan’s constitution, the president’s chief power is to dissolve parliament and call for new elections, subject to approval from the Supreme Court. The president also chairs the country’s National Security Council and appoints the chiefs of the military services.
The day-to-day running of the government and most major policy decisions, however, are set by the prime minister and the governing coalition in the parliament.
The threat to Pakistani stability was underscored again yesterday when a suicide-bomb attack blamed on Islamic militants killed at least 24 persons outside a courthouse in the city of Lahore.
Opposition parties say they fear that Mr. Musharraf, in power since a bloodless military coup in 1999, will try to rig the Feb. 18 vote to stay in power. The criticism has intensified after what many saw as the botched response to the attack on Mrs. Bhutto and the subsequent investigation.
Mr. Durrani conceded that the government’s contradictory initial statements on the incident fed the widespread skepticism.
“You know, the government of Pakistan made a fundamental mistake, and that is, on the second day they made a big statement: ‘This is what happened. So-and-so was responsible.’ I’m not going to make that mistake,” he said.
Investigators from Britain’s Scotland Yard are in Pakistan to help with the investigation.
“Let the investigation go through. Let them come up with the truth. Premature judgments just create more problems for us,” Mr. Durrani said.
The Bush administration sees nuclear-armed Pakistan as a linchpin in its global war on terror, both because of rising Islamic terror in its territory and because of the resurgence of al Qaeda and Taliban forces along the country’s tense border with Afghanistan.
Mr. Durrani said the U.S. government had proved to be a strong ally, though criticisms of Pakistan in the U.S. press and by Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois and other Democratic presidential hopefuls “are not helpful, not for Mr. Musharraf, not for Pakistan, and not for U.S.-Pakistan relations.”
The ambassador also took sharp exception to comments this week from Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog agency. Mr. ElBaradei openly speculated that instability in Pakistan could lead to extremists seizing control of the country’s nuclear arsenal.
“I think he was going beyond his pay grade,” Mr. Durrani said. “He was talking on political aspects, and that’s not his job.”
Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and Nawaz Sharif, another former prime minister who is contesting the Feb. 18 election, both expressed fears the Musharraf government will try to rig the vote. Pakistan “may disintegrate” if authorities try to steal the election, Mr. Zardari told reporters in London on Tuesday.
However, Mr. Durrani said election officials have installed a number of safeguards and reforms Ã¢â‚¬â€ including computerized voter lists, tamper-proof ballots and early publication of all polling stations Ã¢â‚¬â€ to ensure that the vote “will [be] the best-run election in our history.”
“I can guarantee you that anyone who wins in the election in Pakistan will be happy, and I can also guarantee that anybody who loses will declare it was rigged,” he said.
Copyright 2008 News World Communications, Inc. Reprinted with permission of the Washington Times. This reprint does not constitute or imply any endorsement or sponsorship of any product, service, company or organization. Visit the website at www.washingtontimes.com.
1. What are PML-Q and PPP?
2. a) How many parties will have candidates in the election for prime minister on February 18th?
b) As no party is expected to win a majority, how will a ruling party be determined?
3. From what position did Pervez Musharraf resign in November 2007?
4. What powers does the president have under Pakistan’s constitution?
5. Who has the power of the day-to-day running of the government and most major policy decisions?
6. Opposition parties and leaders including Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and Nawaz Sharif have expressed fears that the Musharraf government will try to rig the vote. What have election officials done to ensure a fair election?
7. Why is Pakistan important to the U.S. in our global war on terror?
THE GOVERNMENT OF PAKISTAN:
Pakistan is a federal democratic republic with Islam as the state religion. The semi-presidential system includes a bicameral legislature consisting of a 100-member Senate and a 342-member National Assembly. The President is the Head of State and [until November 2007] the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces and is elected by an electoral college. The prime minister is usually the leader of the largest party in the National Assembly. …(From wikipedia.org)
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