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Formation of Pakistan Government Remains Elusive - 2002-11-12

In Pakistan, more than a month has passed since general elections and there is still no sign of a coalition government assuming office. Pakistani voters have elected a National Assembly (the lower house of Parliament), in which no party has enough seats to form a government by itself.

Leaders of three major parties in the newly elected National Assembly have held several rounds of talks aimed at forming a coalition government.

But there is still no agreement. The Pakistan Muslim League won the most seats in the recent election. This pro-military party and the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto are trying to woo an alliance of Islamic parties, the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA). Whichever party the MMA supports will likely control the new government.

Analysts and political commentators such as Talat Hussain say the deadlock is the natural outcome of elections that created a divided Parliament.

Mr. Hussain says the religious parties want their own prime minister, while that is unacceptable to the Pakistan Muslim League. The PPP, meanwhile, is trying to allay questions about its leadership because Benazir Bhutto faces corruption charges that have not been resolved.

"Pakistan's old political style of building alliances and denying others opportunities has also come into play," said Mr. Hussain, so "every political party and group has its ax to grind and they cannot seem to get their act together for the time being."

One of the most divisive issues is President Pervez Musharraf's constitutional amendments, which give him five more years in office and the power to dismiss an elected government. The MMA and anti-military government parties are strongly opposed to these amendments and insist that they require scrutiny and ratification by Parliament.

Mr. Musharraf's critics say delaying the inaugural session of the national assembly was another tactic designed to give the pro-military party an edge in forming the government. Parliament was supposed to start its first session a week ago.

Pakistani Information Minister Nisar Memon told VOA that the continuing discussions and political tactics are a natural consequence of a divided parliament. "And once they come to some conclusion, I am sure that there will be a very fast movement towards formation of the government ... from a military-led government to the civilian-elected government," said Mr. Memon.

Both the anti-government and Islamic alliances have repeatedly urged President Musharraf to summon Parliament as soon as possible.

They insist they will be able to overcome their differences and work out a ruling coalition. "It is our demand that there should be National Assembly session immediately," said Liaqat Baloch, a senior leader of the MMA religious alliance. "There is no basis to delay the session. ... We think that when the members will have the oath, they will have power, and there will be pressure on the members. Definitely, there will be a solution in the National Assembly."

The MMA based its election campaign on fierce criticism of President Musharraf's support for the U.S.-led war against terrorism. It also campaigned for the establishment of Islamic law in Pakistan. These two platforms dramatically increased its number of seats in the assembly, and hence its power in determining the direction of the new government.

There are concerns that with the religious parties determining votes in Parliament, the anti-terrorism war in neighboring Afghanistan will be weakened.