Both sides agree to form coalition government in Pakistan

Wednesday, November 6, 2002

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Hard-line Islamic parties and a pro-democracy block in Pakistan agreed to join forces Tuesday, giving them the parliamentary majority needed to form a coalition government and possibly choose a pro-Taliban cleric as prime minister.

But political allies of President Gen. Pervez Musharraf refused to concede defeat and said they were also working to form a majority. In Pakistani politics, positions can be fluid and coalitions short-lived.

The religious and pro-democracy parties said they would announce their choice for prime minister on Wednesday, but officials in both camps say the top spot would likely go to Fazl-ur Rahman, head of Jamiat-e-ulema Islam, or the Party of Islamic Clerics.

The pro-Musharraf Quaid-e-Azam faction of the Pakistan Muslim League won the most seats in the Oct. 10 elections, but fell short of a majority, and the parties have been jockeying to form a coalition ever since.

The grouping of religious parties, called the United Action Forum, or Muthida Majlis-e-Amal, came in third on the strength of an anti-American, pro-Taliban platform.

"We have reached an agreement with leaders of Muthida Majlis-e-Amal to form a coalition government," Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan, head of the 15-party Alliance for the Restoration of Democracy said Tuesday after talks with leaders of the religious grouping. "We have a majority to form a coalition government."

Both groups agreed to support Rahman as prime minister, said Riaz Durrani, a spokesman for the Islamic cleric. On Monday, Khan also said Rahman would be the group's likely candidate for prime minister.

There have been reports that Pakistan People's Party leader Mukhdoom Amin Fahim would insist on the prime minister's spot in return for his group's support of a coalition.

The party is the largest member of the Alliance for the Restoration of Democracy.

Azeem Chaudhry, a spokesman for the pro-Musharraf-group, brushed off the coalition claim, saying a pro-Musharraf candidate, Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali, would be the next prime minister.

The United Action Forum has said it hopes to bring an Islamic revolution to Pakistan, eliminate Western influence, and kick out U.S. troops using the country as a base. Since its election, however, group leaders have toned down their rhetoric, saying they want peaceful relations with the United States.

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