ISLAMABAD, Jan 1: President Gen Pervez Musharraf won a vote of confidence from a parliamentary electoral college on Thursday and was declared elected in a process disputed by his political opponents.
The unprecedented vote, allowed by a new constitutional amendment, accorded legitimacy to Gen Musharraf's military presidency after 14 months of noisy opposition protests that had paralyzed parliament.
The main opposition Alliance for Restoration of Democracy and its smaller allied parties boycotted the vote while the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal abstained without opposing the president.
The result, announced by the Election Commission, gave the president a simple majority of 658 votes, which was slightly more than 56 per cent of the 1,170-strong electoral college of the 342-seat National Assembly, the 100-seat Senate and 728 members of the four provincial assemblies.
Under a complex calculation mode, provided for a normal presidential election giving special weight to smaller provincial assemblies and also used for the confidence vote, the president got 374 "yes" votes against 215 absent, 112 abstentions and one "no" vote.
There was no provision in the pre-amended Constitution for a presidential vote of confidence but the new Constitution (Seventeenth Amendment) Bill passed by parliament in line with the government-MMA agreement added a new clause (8) to the Constitution's Article 41 providing for a one-time vote of confidence for a "further affirmation" of Gen Musharraf's presidency in return for his promise to relinquish the post of the chief of the army staff by Dec 31, 2O04.
Chief Election Commissioner Irshad Hasan Khan, who conducted the vote through presiding officers and assistant presiding officers named for each house of parliament and the provincial assemblies, declared the president "elected" by majority of members present and voting in the process.
His announcement said: "Gen Pervez Musharraf, the president in office, having received a majority of votes of members present and voting of both houses of parliament and provincial assemblies as per paragraph 18 of the Second Schedule to the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan is hereby declared elected in terms of Clause (8) of Article 41 of the Constitution..."
Opposition members chanted "No, no", and "Go, Musharraf go" as they walked out of the National Assembly before voting, which was marred by an altercation between some members of the ruling coalition and the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal after an MMA member crossed over to the treasury benches apparently to vote for the president.
The resolution for the confidence vote was tabled by Prime Minister Zafarullah Khan Jamali, Pakistan Muslim League-Q president Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain and leaders of other parties in the ruling coalition.
SHERPAO-HAFIZ TUSSLE: Water and Power Minister Aftab Ahmed Sherpao and MMA leader Hafiz Hussain Ahmed exchanged hot words and pushed each other before they were separated by members from both the sides.
Hafiz Hussain Ahmed accused Mr Sherpao of violating the government-MMA agreement and engaging in horse-trading for the vote of MMA member Maulvi Abdul Halim from the Kohistan district of the NWFP and was heard shouting at the minister: "You are the product of horse-trading."
The remarks of the minister, who heads his own breakaway PPP faction, could not be heard in the press gallery. While Mr Sherpao returned to his desk after the altercation, Maulvi Halim refused to go to the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal side despite hectic persuasion from several members from the MMA and the ruling coalition, including Pakistan Muslim League (Quaid-i-Azam) president Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain.
Finally, it was with some difficulty that Mr Sherpao himself led Maulvi Halim to the MMA benches after members of the alliance threatened to vote against the president if its member did not return to its fold.
"If you break the agreement for one vote, we will vote against you," Hafiz Hussain shouted. Both he (Hafiz Hussain) and Mr Sherpao later embraced each other as a mark of reconciliation after the incident.
Presiding officer Justice Ahmad Khan Lashari, a judge of the Balochistan High Court and a member of the Election Commission, quietly watched the episode, which political sources said could be indication of things to come in the NWFP, where MMA has been accusing Mr Sherpao of trying to destabilise its provincial government.
Members of the ARD and allied parties tore up copies of the sitting's agenda before they walked out of the Senate chanting slogans and calling the presiding officer, Justice Qazi Ehsanullah Qureshi of the Peshawar High Court a "stranger in the house".
The MMA seemed to be in some disarray when all but one of its Senators were not present in the upper house when the presiding officer called for a division and were marked absent, though the alliance had committed in its agreement with the government that its members would remain present during the voting process but would not be bound to cast their votes.
The MMA senator present at the time, Prof Sajid Meer, who is also vice-president of the alliance, voted against the president. While the MMA members were present in strength on opposition during the voting process in the National Assembly, the alliance's senators entered the upper house after the voting, a delay later attributed to a meeting of the alliance legislators.
While the special Senate session started only 20 minutes after the scheduled time of 11am, the National Assembly meeting was delayed by more than an hour. Both the houses were prorogued by presidential orders after the voting.