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Showdown looms as Pakistan parliament convenes

  • Story Highlights
  • More than 300 lawmakers take office as new Pakistan parliament convenes
  • Confrontation looms between majority parties and Pakistani President Musharraf
  • Coalition of main parties plan to reinstate ousted Supreme Court justices
  • In coming weeks, opposition parties plan to tackle the issue of security
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ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (CNN) -- Pakistan's parliament convened Monday and within minutes, it was apparent that the session in the coming days will devolve into a showdown between the newly-elected lawmakers and beleaguered President Pervez Musharraf.

Former Pakistani premier Nawaz Sharif arrives for the inauguration of the new parliament in Islamabad.

More than 300 lawmakers elected last month took the oath of office in the brief ceremony in the National Assembly. An overflow crowd watched the historic proceedings, with reporters sitting on one another's laps in the crowded press gallery.

Breaking tradition, the outgoing speaker of the house did not shake the new members' hands or greet them as they walked up the sign the roll book.

For their part, the opposition lawmakers said they would take their oaths under the constitution "as it was on November 2, 2007." Party members slapped their hands on tables in thunderous applause.

Musharraf imposed a state of emergency and suspended constitutional rule on November 3, 2007. He also amended the constitution soon afterward to provide himself and the military blanket immunity for actions taken during the emergency rule.

Two parties won the majority of National Assembly seats in the February 18 parliamentary election. The Pakistan People's Party (PPP) is home to assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and is now led by her widower, Asif Ali Zardari. The Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) is headed by another former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif.

Neither men has seats in the assembly, and they watched the opening day ceremonies from the gallery. Musharraf did not attend.

Members of Bhutto's party wore ribbons, with a picture of the slain prime minister, on their chests. One member asked that a prayer be said for Bhutto who was assassinated last December as she left a campaign rally in the Pakistani city of Rawalpindi.

The party member reminded the assembly how Bhutto used to say that "the ultimate revenge is democracy."

The PPP has said it is ready to form a government with its coalition partners, including its once-rival, PML-N. It also has said it plans to reform Pakistan's government.

While the coalition has agreed to work with Musharraf, it has also said it would reinstate ousted Supreme Court justices within 30 days of parliament's first session.

The former justices are at the heart of the political crisis that began last year.

Musharraf removed nearly all of the Supreme Court bench in November, days before the justices were set to rule on the legitimacy of his third term in office. He had been re-elected president just a month earlier by a parliament that critics contend was stacked with his supporters

In a recent interview with CNN, Pakistani Attorney General Malik Mohammed Qayyum said that Musharraf is legally protected for deposing the justices and other judges following his emergency order on November 3.

Qayyum said all of the president's decisions made during a six-week state of emergency are legally protected and that there is no legal way to restore the deposed judges.

Zardari and Sharif also vowed to uphold the Charter for Democracy, a document that would restore the powers of the prime minister. Many of those powers were stripped away when Musharraf seized power in a 1999 coup, including the power to dissolve parliament and appoint military chiefs.

It is unclear if the coalition could actually get its measures through both houses of parliament.

Despite opposition gains in parliamentary elections last month, a coalition led by Musharraf's party retains a considerable number of seats in the Senate.

Even as they take on Musharraf, the coalition will have to tackle the issue of security in the country.

A series of deadly attacks since December has killed more than 400 people, and each week has brought chaos and instability to the nuclear-armed nation.

Under Musharraf, Pakistan has been a key U.S. ally in its battle against Islamic extremists.


Washington has sent billions of dollars in aid to Musharraf's government. The Bush administration's priority for Pakistan is to deprive al Qaeda of the sanctuary it has established along the country's rugged border with Afghanistan, and to reverse the momentum the Taliban has achieved in attacks on both sides of the border.

Yet given that many Pakistanis disapprove of the way Musharraf has carried out his end of the "war on terror," analysts say it's unlikely that a new government will move as aggressively on counterterrorism issues as the U.S. would like. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Reza Sayah contributed to this report

All About Pervez MusharrafPakistanAl QaedaThe TalibanAfghanistanBenazir BhuttoNawaz Sharif

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