Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf addressing the nation.— Photo by APP

ISLAMABAD: The PPP-led federal coalition bid a historic farewell on Saturday as Pakistan’s first elected government to complete its parliamentary term, with Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf voicing his confidence that it would mark the end of a “sinister chapter” in the country’s history of ambushes on democracy.

The term of the government was linked to the expiry of the five-year term of the 342-seat National Assembly at midnight, though the prime minister might hang on for about a week until a caretaker successor takes over to oversee the next national elections within two months.

In a late-night televised farewell address, the prime minister said that in a meeting with him earlier in the day, the chief ministers of all the four provinces had “agreed in principle” with his suggestion to hold elections to the National Assembly and four provincial assemblies on the same day, which, under the constitution, must come about within 60 days of their dissolution.

And he said he would pursue his already-begun efforts to create a consensus on the formation of caretaker administrations at the centre and the provinces, as the issue seemed bogged down mainly at the centre and in Punjab because of sharp disagreements over the nominees between the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the opposition Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N).

But he would not say exactly how many more days would be required to overcome the “remaining stages” in forming the caretaker governments.

The term of the National Assembly, elected in a 2008 vote that dealt a death knell to about nine years of military-led rule of Gen Pervez Musharraf, began with oath-taking by its members on March 17, 2008, though the coalition government, then headed by prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and also including PML-N, took office eight days later on March 25.

A notification issued by the parliamentary affairs ministry formally announced its demise, two days after it ended its last session on Thursday, saying that, in pursuance of Article 52 of the constitution, the assembly “stands dissolved on the expiration of its term of five years on the 16th day of March, 2013”.

With PML-N of 90-plus seats leaving the coalition as early as May 2008 and the 25-seat Muttahida Qaumi Movement staging its third outing last month, the PPP, with less than 130 lawmakers, had the support of late-comer 50-seat Pakistan Muslim League-Q, 13-seat Awami National Party and some smaller groups and independents, leaving it far short of once-claimed two-thirds majority.

In his address, Mr Ashraf, who has been in office only for nine months after the Supreme Court disqualified Mr Gilani for a contempt-of-court conviction, recalled the history of prime ministers’ tenures cut short by military coups or other conspiracies and credited completion of full five years this time and the present strength of democracy to his party’s policy of reconciliation. “Democracy is now so strong, that nobody will stage an ambush against it.”

“In Pakistan’s history, a sinister chapter has now been closed,” Mr Ashraf said, after referring to the fate of several previous prime ministers, including the assassination of Pakistan’s first prime minister Liaquat Ali Khan, the toppling and hanging of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the dismissal of PPP’s Benazir Bhutto and PML-N’s Nawaz Sharif twice each, and calling the disqualification of his predecessor only as “a recent occurrence”.

His apparently pre-recorded 40-minute speech was marked by claims of successes in turning around a ruined economy, fighting terrorism as in Swat valley, and ending what he called Pakistan’s international isolation.

He also complained about unexplained hurdles that he said had been created in the way of the PPP-led government and continuous predictions about its fall that never happened.

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