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Pakistan Lawmakers Choose Assembly Speaker - 2002-11-19

Legislators in Pakistan have selected a speaker for the National Assembly. But efforts to put together a coalition to form the government have so far failed, more than a month after national elections.

Pakistani lawmakers elected Chaudhry Amir Hussain as the speaker of the lower house of the parliament, the National Assembly. He belongs to the Pakistan Muslim League (Q) party, which strongly supports President Pervez Musharraf's military government.

Mr. Hussain won 167 out of 327 votes. His main rival, from a coalition of Islamic parties, recorded 80 votes. A third contender from ex-Prime Minister Benzir Bhutto's political party received 71 votes.

Tuesday's election of the speaker is a strong indication that the pro-Musharraf party will form the first civilian government since a military coup three years ago. The vote to elect a new prime minister is expected later this week.

None of the three main political groups won a clear majority in October's general election. Talks to put in place a stable ruling coalition have dragged on for more than a month.

President Musharraf's opponents have accused him of rigging the general election in favor of pro-military parties. They repeated these allegations during Tuesday's vote for the speaker of the National Assembly.

"An assembly which has come into existence because of pre-poll rigging, an assembly, an assembly which had rigging during elections," said Tehmina Daultana, a member of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's political party. "[And] after elections there was rigging, an assembly in which rigging has taken place in the election of the speaker, what kind of an assembly is this?"

President Musharaf has repeatedly denied allegations that his government influenced the outcome of the election. He was sworn in as president on Saturday for the next five years. But the military leader has promised to hand over day-to-day handling of the country to the elected government.

Among other things, opposition parties are critical of his constitutional changes that empower him to dismiss an elected government.