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Pakistan Elects Musharraf Ally New Prime Minister Amid Strife

By John Lancaster

The Washington Post


Pakistan’s new parliament chose a prime minister from the main pro-government party Thursday, rejecting the candidate of fundamentalist Islamic parties and ending a protracted struggle over the shape of a new ruling coalition more than five weeks after national elections.

Zafarullah Khan Jamali, a career politician and tribal leader from the province of Baluchistan, captured a narrow majority in the National Assembly with 172 votes of 328 votes. Fazlur Rahman, a Muslim cleric opposed to Pakistan’s cooperation with the United States in the war on terrorism, ran a distant second with 86 votes.

The outcome came as a relief to the military government of President Pervez Musharraf, the army chief of staff, who seized power three years ago in a coup d’etat. It signaled the emergence of a ruling coalition led by Jamali’s party, the pro-government Quaid-e-Azam faction of the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-Q), and including independent lawmakers as well as defectors from the opposition Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) led by former prime minister Benazir Bhutto.

The new coalition, analysts say, is unlikely to challenge Musharraf’s alliance with Washington or his domestic policies, including gradual economic reform. They noted, however, that the coalition’s slender majority means that the new government could prove unstable and prone to an early collapse.

Many Pakistanis remain deeply cynical about the elections as well as the horse-trading that followed, accusing Musharraf of manipulating the process to ensure a favorable outcome. Under constitutional amendments he imposed by fiat last summer, Musharraf will still retain ultimate power in Pakistan, including authority to dismiss parliament.

Musharraf defended his record in an hour-long speech Wednesday night, presenting himself, as he often does, as a modest military man who stepped in reluctantly to save the country from incompetent and venal civilian leaders. “The ship of the nation has been steered clear out of the stormy seas and is well set on its destination,” he declared, promising to turn over executive authority to the new government within the next few days.

Jamali, the 58-year-old new prime minister, is a largely unknown figure outside Pakistan. He is a career politician from the Jamali tribe in Baluchistan, on the lawless frontier with Afghanistan, according to news reports and diplomats in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad.

He served three times as chief minister of Baluchistan, most recently in 1996, and was a deputy minister for rural development in the military government of Gen. Zia ul-Haq, who died in a plane crash in 1988. He was elected to the National Assembly in 1985 and subsequently served as a minister for water and power. He is said to speak English extremely well and is a former field hockey player who has been active in promoting the sport in Pakistan.

The runner-up in the contest, Rahman, was the candidate of a six-party religious alliance known as the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal, or MMA. In part because Musharraf had barred a number of potential challengers -- including Bhutto and former prime minister Nawaz Sharif -- from participating in the elections on corruption grounds, the religious parties did far better in the Oct. 10 contest than analysts had predicted, finishing third in the balloting behind the PML-Q and Bhutto’s PPP.