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Parliament makes history by completing tenure

March 14, 2013

Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf with the members of the National Assembly at a farewell group photo session at the Parliament House in Islamabad. — Photo by APP/File

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan's parliament made history Thursday by becoming the first in the country's history to complete a full term in office, dissolving in a low-key session that paves the way for elections.

The nuclear-armed country of 180 million, where Taliban attacks and record levels of violence directed against the Shia Muslim minority has raised fears about security for the polls, is now due to elect new leaders by mid-May.

“The session that started on February 18, 2013 has prorogued on completion of its business,” said Yasmeen Rehman, lawmaker for the main ruling Pakistan People's Party, reading out a letter from President Asif Ali Zardari.

Rehman stood in for the National Assembly Speaker Dr Fehmida Mirza, who was not present.

Very few lawmakers turned out for what was the last session of Pakistan's 13th national assembly, consisting mostly of farewell speeches.

She wished lawmakers the best of luck before adding: “I pray that Allah gives us success and that democracy should continue and the next parliament should also complete its term.”

Zardari has yet to announce a date for the elections. Politicians are still negotiating the make-up of a caretaker administration which is set to replace the government within days, for the duration of the election campaign.

A senior official told AFP on Thursday that the Election Commission had recommended polling on May 8, 9 or 10, and was fully prepared for whichever date Zardari would announce.

“The election date should have been announced by the president three to four days ahead of the dissolution of the present parliament, but it seems they will not declare it until the last moment,” he added.

The dissolution of the national assembly is a milestone in Pakistan, where the military has seized power three times in coups and ruled for around half the country's existence.

Analysts attribute the success to Zardari's wheeler-dealer ability to keep the coalition intact, the army chief of staff's determination to keep out of politics and the opposition's unwillingness to force early elections.

But despite passing key legislation, which rolled back decades of meddling by military rulers, the parliament has presided over staggering economic decline and worsening security over the last five years.

“The biggest achievement of this government is that it remained in power for five years,” political analyst Hasan Askari told AFP.