Pakistan National Assembly elects first woman speaker

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Islamabad, Mar 19 (UNI) Pakistan's National Assembly today elected the first woman speaker in its 60 year long history, as the country entered the final stage of full transition to democracy.

Dr Fehmida Mirza, a senior Pakistan People's Party leader, secured 249 votes against the 70 votes obtained by her rival candidate Sardar Muhammad Israr Tareen of former ruling Pakistan Muslim League(Q).

The 13th National Assembly had come into being yesterday almost a month after February 18 parliamentary elections, which brought to fore the People's Party and Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz).

Dr Mirza, a masters degree holder in medicine and hailing from a popular political family of Sindh province, made it to the lower house for the third time since 1997. She is considered one of the committed party workers.

''I congratulate Dr Mirza, the first-ever woman speaker of South Asian region, on her election,'' the out-going speaker Chaudhry Amir Hussain said in his farewell address.

Dr Mirza earlier told reporters that it was the best time for all parliamentarians to sit together and address challenges facing the country.

She said the party had entrusted a great responsibility on her and she would try and take all members along irrespective of their party affiliations.

Former chief minister of Punjab, Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi, who won a national assembly seat and is the most likely candidate for slot of the opposition leader, hoped that Dr Mirza would come up to the expectations of the house.

He said the combined opposition would fully cooperate with her and play role of a different opposition.

The National Assembly is scheduled to elect leader of the house or the prime minister during a new session to be convened sometime next week.

But The PPP and PML(N) accused the presidency of conspiring against the pre-dominantly anti-Pervez Musharraf parliament.

''The President house is conspiring against democracy and delay in convening inaugural sessions of the provincial assemblies proves that Musharraf is creating stumbling blocks in the way of new parliament,'' PML(N) secretary information and member National Assembly Ahsan Iqbal told reporters.

He said Mr Musharraf should give up efforts to destabilise democracy and step down as President to allow democratic institutions to flourish.

Former foreign minister and a PPP MP Sardar Assef Ahmad Ali also accused President Musharraf of consipiring against the parliament and making desparate efforts to impose Prime Minister of his choice on the assembly.

Meanwhile, the two leading parties - PPP and PML(N) - which announced to form a coalition government in the centre and in Punjab province, have not yet disclosed the name of a consensus candidate for office of the Prime Minister.

There is no confirmation available as to who would lead the new government amongst the three pontential candidates - Makhdoom Amin Fahim, an influential politician from Sindh, former speaker Yousuf Raza Gillani and Chaudhry Ahmad Mukhtar from Punjab.

PPP sources said the new prime minister might be from Punjab as the speaker has been taken from the Sindh province.

UNI XC PD KN1729

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