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 Thursday, 21 November, 2002, 10:31 GMT
Pakistan's new-look parliament
Pakistan's National Assembly building in Islamabad
Parliament had not met since the 1999 military coup


Pakistan's 342-member National Assembly has a very different complexion from three years ago, when it last met.

Most familiar political figures are missing because of the laws that barred them from contesting the October general election.

Fazlur Rahman (L) with former President Farooq Leghari (R)
Fazlur Rahman (left): "Democratic mullah"
A new law had made it mandatory for candidates to have college degrees and, as a result, there are many new and young faces.

Because of the re-introduction of reserved seats for women, there are also more than 70 women MPs, compared to just a couple in the two previous assemblies.

Perhaps more significant is the dominating presence of the alliance of religious parties, the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), who have 66 representatives in the house.

They are led by Maulana Fazlur Rahman, known abroad as a conservative Islamic leader whose party supported Afghanistan's Taleban movement.

At home, he has the reputation of a "democratic mullah" who worked with former premier Benazir Bhutto's government and has remained at the forefront of campaigns against military rule since the 1970s.

Constitution row

President Pervez Musharraf's wish that parliament accept the sweeping constitutional changes he has made has sparked a bitter debate among the newly-elected MPs.

Zafarullah Jamali (R) with party colleague Chowdhury Shujaat (L)
Pro-Musharraf politicians won the most votes
Many of them insist on taking the oath of office under the provisions of the 1973 constitution, so heavily amended by President Musharraf.

"Rules of business" and tradition lay down that the chief election commissioner (CEC) preside over the inaugural session and administer the oath to the new MPs under that constitution.

Conscious of the controversies surrounding this transition, and allegations of rigging in the October polls, CEC Irshad Hasan Khan excused himself from presiding over the inaugural session of this assembly.

Flexibility needed

But the debate on the status of Pakistan's constitution is far from over.

President Pervez Musharraf
Musharraf: Changed the constitution
President Musharraf insists that the changes he has introduced, through what is known as the Legal Framework Order (LFO), are now part of the constitution.

The newly-elected MPs are divided on the issue, with anti-Musharraf groups swearing to abide by the 1973 constitution unchanged by a military ruler.

However, politicians from across the divide are not willing to describe this as a crisis that cannot be resolved.

Many of them believe that - with some flexibility shown by General Musharraf and his opponents - an agreement can be reached on a trouble-free session and power can be transferred to an elected parliament.

Musharraf's Pakistan

Democracy challenge

Militant threat

Background

TALKING POINT

FROM THE ARCHIVES

BBC WORLD SERVICE
See also:

06 Nov 02 | South Asia
04 Nov 02 | South Asia
02 Nov 02 | South Asia
29 Oct 02 | South Asia
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