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Pakistan Parties Negotiating Coalition Agreements - 2002-11-05

More than three weeks after national elections in Pakistan, it is still not clear which parties will form a coalition government. There are signs political parties are making progress.

Pakistan's three largest parties, divided on ideological lines, still are struggling to cobble together a coalition.

A pro-military government political party, the Pakistan Muslim League, which won the most seats, has named Zafarullah Khan Jamali, its candidate for the prime minister. The party says it has held successful talks with smaller parties in the National Assembly and is in a position to form a government.

On Tuesday, leaders of pro-democracy parties and an alliance of six religious groups, Mutahida Majlis-e-Amal, or MMA, said they are ready to form a government.

Nawabzadah Nasrullah Khan is the head of the multi-party Alliance for Restoration of Democracy, ARD. The alliance includes the political party of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, the Pakistan People's Party, which has emerged as the second largest party in Parliament.

"As far as MMA and ARD, these two alliances are concerned, they are absolutely unanimous, particularly the issue of these two offices, the prime minister and the speaker [of the national assembly], that has been settled," he said.

Mr. Khan would not name the candidate for prime minister. Leaders of the MMA, however, have said it is likely to be the head of the fundamentalist Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam party, Fazlur Rehman.

The 342-seat national assembly is scheduled to be inaugurated Friday - a simple majority of 173 seats, is needed to form a government. Politicians dismiss criticism that efforts to form a government have deadlocked.

"The constitution and the rules provide for a clear cut methodology by which a government can be put together even if it cannot be made on the first round of voting. It allows for multiple rounds," said Naveed Qamar, an assembly member elected from Ms. Bhutto's party. "It allows for parties to get together in Parliament and form a coalition."

"At the moment, what is really happening in Pakistan is that the PPP and the Mutahida Majlis-e-Amal, they are trying to define and clarify as to what can be the basis for their coming together," said Ayaz Amir, a leading columnist and political commentator. "So things are not getting more confused, things are becoming more clear."

No date has been announced for the election of the prime minister, which usually comes several days after the Parliament is sworn in.