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Pakistan's Parliament Picks PPP's Gilani as Prime Minister


Pakistan's National Assembly has elected as prime minister a long-time opponent of President Pervez Musharraf. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Islamabad.

It came as no surprise that Yousuf Raza Gilani was selected Monday by the Parliament to become Pakistan's 22nd prime minister. He was put forward for prime minister Saturday by the Pakistan Peoples Party, which is the largest in the new parliament.

The runner-up in last month's national balloting, the party headed by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, also pledged to support Mr. Gilani.

Assembly speaker Fahmid Mirza announced Mr. Gilani received 264 votes of the 342-seat lower house.

"I request Sayed Yousuf Raza Gilani to please come forward and take the seat of the leader of the House," said Mirza.

When the results were revealed the chamber broke into a jubilant chorus of "Long Live Bhutto" - a tribute to the two-time prime minister Benazir Bhutto who was assassinated on the campaign trail late last year. Lawmakers also chanted for the ouster of President Pervez Musharraf.

Mr. Gilani's selection ends an era of struggle by political forces opposed to Mr. Musharraf and further puts the president's fate in question.

Mrs. Bhutto's tearful 19-year-old son, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, looked on as Mr. Gilani rose to address the assembly. He called for parliament to demand an investigation, under a United Nations commission, into the December 27 killing of Mrs. Bhutto.

Mr. Gilani, in his first significant act, also ordered the immediate release of all judges who had been detained by President Musharraf. Within minutes, barricades began coming down in Islamabad where some of the judges had been under house arrest for months.

Mr. Gilani will be sworn in by the president Tuesday morning. It will be a poignant moment as the embattled and unpopular Mr. Musharraf installs a government formed by his chief political opponents. Some in the new government will press the former army general to resign or, failing that, will likely move to begin impeachment proceedings.

Shortly before his defeat, in which he received 42 votes, as the opposition's candidate for prime minister, Chaudhry Pervez Elahi, the president of the pro-Musharraf ("Q") faction of the Pakistan Muslim League, denied that the forces backing Mr. Musharraf have lost influence.

"It's not weakening," said Elahi. "We have our strength and we have also allied parties."

But the forces arrayed against the president now clearly outweigh Mr. Musharraf's backers.

Mr. Gilani will become the first prime minister from a party opposed to Mr. Musharraf in eight and a half years. During that time, Mr. Musharraf ruled Pakistan with an iron hand while political leaders opposed to him were kept in exile.

President Musharraf on Sunday pledged to work with the new government. But he gave no hint whether he would yield to demands to step down or if he is willing to stay on as a figurehead.

Mr. Gilani's expected tenure is a matter of question.

The widower of the slain former Prime Minister is denying intense media speculation he wants the post for himself. Asif Ali Zardari returned from exile and took over as PPP co-chairman following Mrs. Bhutto's assassination at the end of last year.

History does not bode well for Mr. Gilani serving out a full five-year term. Only one prime minister in Pakistan's history has ever stayed that long in office; and many were removed by presidential decree or military coups.

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