The New National Assembly: Day One

Pakistan’s new National Assembly convened for the first time today. Big wigs from the incoming governing alliance met before the session began. The seating arrangement was interesting and reflects what seems to be the emerging power dynamics in Pakistan.

Asif Zardari was the center of gravity. Seated to his immediate left was Nawaz Sharif, and to the right, Yousuf Raza Gilani, believed to the be likely prime ministerial nominee. Amin Fahim was present but separate, sitting adjacent to Nawaz with an end table in between them. Asfandyar Wali was also there, but not in immediate proximity to the major players. Maulana Fazlur Rahman also got a seat at the last minute.
Sharif and Zardari made their way to the galleries (they did not run in the polls) and, again, sat next to one another. They, however, are no mere spectators.

The session began with a recitation of the Qur’an. The passage read, the favorite of Muslim rulers, included the verse: “Obey God, obey the Messenger, and those in authority among you.” Who is in authority in Pakistan is, however, under question.

Prior to the oath taking, Naveed Qamar, a People’s Party MNA, asked for confirmation that the oath would be taken on the 1973 constitution sans Musharraf’s November 3rd. Chaudhry Amir Hussain, the outgoing PML-Q National Assembly speaker, replied in the affirmative.

Then, another PPP MNA eulogized the late Benazir Bhutto and asked that the body perform the dua-e maghfirah (supplication of forgiveness) for her. The outgoing National Assembly speaker Chaudhry Amir then asked Maulana Fazlur Rahman of all people to perform the prayer. The maulana’s hopes for the premiership are unrealistic, but he could have a shot at grand mufti.

Ahsan Iqbal, a PML-N MNA, gave a short speech in which he stated that the elections showed that Pakistanis rejected Musharraf’s October 12, 1999 coup.

Later in the day, Nawaz Sharif asserted his commitment the restoring the deposed judges, eliminating the National Security Council, and revoking Musharraf’s right to dissolve the National Assembly under Article 58(2)(B). He also noted that U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Anne Patterson had expressed her “reservations” to him regarding the restoration of the judges. This contradicts recent statements by the administration that it had no position on the judges. Meanwhile, two members of Congress introduced a non-binding resolution in the House calling for the Pakistani government to:

restore to their positions Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry and all Supreme Court and high court justices and other members of the legal profession in Pakistan who were removed from office since the imposition of emergency rule, and to respect the independence of the Pakistani judiciary.”

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Arif Rafiq, a Washington, DC-based consultant on Middle East and South Asian political and security issues. [About]

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