ISLAMABAD, Nov 21: Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali of the Pakistan Muslim League-Q was on Thursday elected Leader of the House by the new National Assembly and he vowed to seek harmony with his political opponents to run his new civilian administration.

But the 342-seat lower house of parliament voted Jamali by the barest of majority that will force him to walk on a tight rope in keeping his multi-party coalition together while sharing power with President Pervez Musharraf.

Jamali, a former chief minister of Balochistan, got 172 votes out of 329 votes cast, against 86 bagged by Maulana Fazlur Rehman of the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA) and 70 by Shah Mahmood Qureshi of the People’s Party Parliamentarians (PPP).

DEFECTORS, SUPPORTERS: The PPP, which came second with 81 votes, was damaged when 10 of its members went over to the PML-Q at the risk of being unseated after the anti-defection clauses of the partially revived Constitution are restored and the 60-seat MMA was bolstered by support from the 19-seat PML-N and some smaller groups.

“Consultation is necessary in most matters and God-willing I will move ahead by taking various parties, including the PPP and MMA, into confidence,” Jamali told the House in a brief post- election speech.

“There will be no fake cases instituted by me against anyone, no dossiers will be opened and nobody will be harassed,” he said amid cheers and added: “I hope they will also not harass me.”

“We all have to work together,” Jamali said as he referred to the issue of internal security in Pakistan, which is a key ally in the US-led war against terrorism and has often seen waves of violence blamed on Islamic militants opposing Islamabad’s support to the military campaign in neighbouring Afghanistan, rival religious sects and foreign intelligence agencies. “My request is that we work hand in hand,” he added.

MUSHARRAF POLICIES: Jamali pledged to continue President Musharraf’s pro-American foreign policy as well as his economic policies and traditional close relations with friendly countries such as neighbouring China, calling friendship with China “higher than the Himalayas.”

He said Pakistan had “no enmity with any country” but, in a reference to India, said: “We will give a reply if anybody cast an evil eye on us.”

“We are about to be out of the woods,” he said of what he called “very good” economic policy that his government would inherit.

The formal induction of the 58-year-old, former hockey player into office, possibly on Saturday, would mean only a partial restoration of civilian rule after more than three years of military rule by Gen Musharraf.

On being sworn in as premier, Mr Jamali will be handed over powers of the chief executive now held by Gen Musharraf in addition to the powerful presidency and the post of the Chief of the Army Staff.

Controversial constitutional amendments decreed by him but opposed by most political parties, empower the president to sack future prime ministers, dissolve parliament and set up an overseeing military-civilian National Security Council that will give the armed forces a permanent role in the country’s governance.

President Musharraf has also assumed the previously prime ministerial powers to appoint the armed forces’ chiefs and provincial governors who, in turn, will be empowered to sack provincial chief ministers and dissolve provincial assemblies.

But Jamali advised opposition parties seeking to undo these amendments to be patient and praised the president for what he called a completion of his roadmap to democracy.

Asserting that “the transfer of power will be completed definitely,” he urged the members to exercise “a little patience”.

“Rome was not built in a day,” he said quoting the 13th century Spanish writer Cervantes Don Quixote. “My request to friends, members of parliament is that we together run this parliament, for the sake of this country ... Parliament is supreme,” he said in an obvious reference to opposition’s view that the presidential amendments to the Constitution would rob the country of an agreed principle of parliamentary supremacy and give undue powers to the presidency in a parliamentary system of government. “All are ready for hair- splitting but not to see the other side,” he said.

“We have made a commitment to the nation to work with dedication and go step by step,” said Jamali, whose election was preceded by a stormy controversy over new speaker Chaudhry Amir Hussain’s remarks to reporters after his own election on Tuesday that a Legal Framework Order containing President Musharraf’s amendments had become part of the 1973 Constitution under which the newly-elected assembly members had taken oath on Saturday. “Let us not be in a hurry.”

Jamali called the present one “a golden chance” for the restoration of democracy and said: “Everybody is looking toward us. We have no conflict, we have no difference.”

He said it was a matter of honour for him to be elected as the first ever prime minister from Balochistan and hailing from a small village in the largest but least populated province of the country, and was conscious of Pakistan’s political history that “chair (of power) has not been faithful to anybody.”

Jamali will become the 13th person to take Pakistan’s most coveted but most cursed office.

The first prime minister, Liaquat Ali Khan, was assassinated in October 1951 and all his successors, including the last two who served two short-lived tenures each and are now tasting the bitter bread of banishment — Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif — were forced out of office either by political intrigues or coups by the military, which has ruled the 55-year-old country for about half of its existence.

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