ISLAMABAD, Nov 6: The government on Wednesday postponed the first session of the newly-elected National Assembly for “about a week” in a move that will delay the planned transfer of power to a civilian government.

A government announcement said the session, earlier set for Friday, had been delayed in response to demands by some politicians and because of “logistical reasons”, but it did not give a new date for the meeting that must elect a prime minister.

“The exact (new) date will be announced soon,” it added.

The postponement will mean the delay in the transfer of President Pervez Musharraf’s power of Chief Executive to the new prime minister.

The move was immediately denounced by opposition People’s Party Parliamentarians (PPP) as a ploy to help the Pakistan Muslim League (Q) muster the required strength for the election of its nominee as prime minister.

The government move comes only a day after 15-party Alliance for the Restoration of Democracy (ARD) and the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA) of six religio-political parties agreed to put up joint candidates for prime minister and the National Assembly speaker and said they had the required majority to win the offices.

Before the brief postponement announcement, an official statement quoted President Pervez Musharraf as telling his cabinet on Wednesday that the government had “noted suggestions made by certain political leaders for the postponement ... to facilitate the ongoing consultations and discussions amongst them for the formation of an elected government”.

He said the government was “keen that the country receives a stable democratic government and would give due consideration to every suggestion that helps achieve this objective”. However, the statement quoted the president as making it clear that “the government would like an early convening of the National Assembly and there was, therefore, no question of an indefinite postponement as has been reported in a section of the press today”.

“In response to the request made by heads of some political parties and for logistical reasons, the first session of the National Assembly has been delayed for about a week,” the government announcement said.

The ARD and MMA on Tuesday withheld the names of their joint candidates, although the PPP had previously named Makhdoom Amin Fahim and the MMA Maulana Fazlur Rehamn for prime minister.

The PML-Q, nicknamed by critics as the “king’s party”, on Tuesday demanded a postponement of the session in a move seen by its opponents as a manifestation of a lacking of the required majority support in the 342-seat house to have its nominee, Mir Zafrullah Khan Jamali, elected as prime minister.

The PPP said the postponement was based on “mala fide intent” and “motivated by the desire of the regime to assist the pro- regime king’s party muster the requisite strength to enable it to form the government”.

“The postponement...has lent credence to the perception that the regime is manipulating the post-election dynamics to weaken the anti-regime political parties,” a PPP statement said.

It recalled that “such manipulation in the past in 1971” had disastrous consequences for the country and said: “The PPP demands immediate convening of the National Assembly and smooth transfer of power to the elected representatives of the people.”

This was a reference to the postponement of the first session of the National Assembly elected in 1970 by then military ruler Gen Yahya Khan that led to the military action in former East Pakistan and the subsequent war that led to the creation of Bangladesh.

The PPP emerged as the second largest group with 81 seats and MMA third with 60, but they said on Tuesday they had garnered 174 votes with support of other groups which would be enough to elect their prime minister.

Parliament’s inauguration has not been officially notified in the government gazette, and no member-elect has received official notification or invitation. Members-elect are normally given around four days’ prior notification, add agencies.

“We have not yet issued notification for the November 8 session and we are waiting for government instructions,” an official at the national assembly secretariat said.

MARKETS: In a related developement, with the race for a coalition still on, Pakistan’s main stock market index ended down 1.52 per cent at 2,223.41 on Wednesday due to political uncertainty, after dropping four per cent on Monday and staging a partial recovery on Tuesday.

“Investors are worried about the confusing political situation, specially given doubts about when the assembly will open,” said Ashraf Zakaria, a broker at AHRL Securities.

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