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Pakistan makes shaky return to democracy

Musharraf seized power in 1999 in a bloodless coup
Musharraf seized power in 1999 in a bloodless coup

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In-depth: Pakistan decides 
• Key facts: Pakistan election 
• Timeline: Timeline: Pakistan 1947-2002 
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ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (CNN) -- Pakistan's first elected parliament in three years has been sworn in hours after the country's military leader himself took the oath for a new five-year term in office.

President Pervez Musharraf, who seized power following a bloodless coup in 1999, extended his tenure following a controversial referendum held earlier this year.

Musharraf, a key American ally in the war on terror, took the oath of office Saturday morning at the presidential palace in the capital, Islamabad.

His new term comes with enhanced powers and amendments to the country's constitution giving him the right to suspend parliament and dismiss elected governments.

Musharraf also heads up a newly-formed National Security Council dominated by the military to oversee the work of government.

However, the new powers, making the president the ultimate force in Pakistani politics, were sharply criticized by several of the new lawmakers as they attended the convening of parliament.

Some assembly members initially refused to take the oath of office in protest at the amendments.

However, the presiding officer of the session, Elahi Buksh Sumro, assured the parliamentarians that "not even a comma has been changed" to the oath they would take, and they complied.

Musharraf himself has said such powers are necessary in order to ensure Pakistan's return to democracy is as stable as possible.

The 343-member assembly was elected in October polls, trumpeted by officials as heralding the return of democracy to Pakistan following the 1999 bloodless coup that swept Musharraf to power.

Horse-trading

Women parliamentarians from the Islamic alliance arrive to take the oath of office
Women parliamentarians from the Islamic alliance arrive to take the oath of office

The much-criticized vote was followed by weeks of political horse-trading between rival parties, although they have still not yet managed to agree on the make-up of a coalition government.

The election was condemned as unfair by Musharraf critics because key figures,

including Musharraf's predecessor Nawaz Sharif and another former prime minister Benazir

Bhutto, were barred from contesting.

In the event the pro-military Pakistan Muslim League won the largest number of seats -- but that is not enough to rule alone.

It has been trying to form a coalition with an alliance of six right-wing Islamic parties that fought on a strong anti-U.S. platform.

One of the leaders of the alliance is Fazal-ur-Rehman, a hardline cleric who supported the former Taliban regime in Afghanistan.

After winning 60 seats the alliance has been pushing for Rehman should head the new government -- a prospect that could undermine Musharraf's position in the war on terror.

However, the parties have been unable to agree on a choice of leader for the new government, and remain divided over Musharraf's controversial constitutional amendments.

Parliament had been due to reconvene last week, but was delayed at the last minute.

Critics have accused the military leadership of instigating the delay in order to give the pro-Musharraf Muslim League time to build up more support.

The assembly is scheduled to choose a prime minister on Friday, giving parties a few more days to hammer out a deal.



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