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08ISLAMABAD1192 2008-03-17 13:13:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Islamabad
Cable title:  

PAKISTAN'S NEW NATIONAL ASSEMBLY CONVENES

Tags:   PGOV PHUM PK PREL 
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1. (C) Summary. Pakistan's newly elected National Assembly
convened March 17 in a festive atmosphere with members taking
their oaths of office and then pausing to remember Benazir
Bhutto. Coalition leaders Asif Zardari and Nawaz Sharif
(both unelected) watched from the gallery, as did defeated
leaders of Musharraf's party. Zardari has yet to name his
choice for Prime Minister. Amin Faheem spent the weekend
trying to garner support for his candidacy, and the PPP's
leadership struggle is growing increasingly ugly. If all
goes as planned, the Assembly will vote on a new Prime
Minister March 22; within 24 hours, President Musharraf is
expected to ask the PM to form a government. End Summary.

2. (SBU) In a festive atmosphere, Pakistan's new National
Assembly members took their oaths of office from the former
Speaker on March 17. Pakistan People's Party (PPP) members
sported large tags in PPP colors embossed with Benazir
Bhutto's picture. PPP leader Asif Zardari and Pakistan
Muslim League-N (PML-N) leader Nawaz Sharif (both unelected)
watched together from the speaker's gallery; they were
welcomed with much desk pounding, a traditional sign of
support. Quietly surveying the proceedings from a different
gallery were losing members of the former government,
including Pakistan Muslim League (PML) President Chaudhry
Shujaat Hussain and former Minister of Information Durrani.
Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi, former Chief Minister of Punjab, was
on the floor and is expected to become the leader of the
opposition.

3. (SBU) Zardari told the press "this is the last day of
dictatorship," Nawaz Sharif said the coalition's agenda was
"democracy versus dictatorship. It has to end, it has to be
defeated."

4. (SBU) After agreeing that members would take an oath
under the 1973 constitution (i.e., unamended by Musharraf),
they said a short prayer in memory of Benazir Bhutto, and
signed in as members. There are 196 new members of the 342
seat Assembly, including 75 women; there are still eight
seats vacant because the results have been contested, the
former member died, or the winner won in more than one
constituency. By-elections are tentatively scheduled for
mid-April.

Still No Prime Minister


--------------------------



5. (SBU) There was no other legislative business. The
Assembly is scheduled to nominate its Speaker --
constitutionally, its first task -- on March 18, and vote on
him (or her) March 19. If all goes as planned, the
nomination of a prime minister will take place on March 20
with a vote on March 22. As soon as the Assembly approves
the name, we expect President Musharraf to formally invite
the new Prime Minister to form a government and be sworn in,
probably within 24 hours of the vote.

6. (C) Coalition members from the PPP, PML-N, Awami
National Party (ANP) and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F) met for
consultations before the session but there is still no news
of Zardari's choice for Prime Minister. Over the weekend,
there were rallies organized for PPP Vice-Chairman Amin
Faheem in Karachi and Lahore, and there are signs the PPP's
leadership struggle is becoming increasingly fractious.
Faheem alternately met with or was forced to cancel meetings
over the weekend with key PPP, PML-N, JUI-F and ANP leaders
to push his candidacy. There are rumors Faheem may resort to
legal action, claiming he rather than Zardari is the true
President of the PPPP (PPP Parliamentarians), the officially
registered party. Weekend editorials lamented the PPP's
intra-leadership battles and hinted that Musharraf was trying
to undermine the coalition by backing Faheem instead of
Zardari. Outside the National Assembly building March 17
were banners cautioning "traitors to their party," a
reference to Faheem's refusal to withdraw his PM candidacy.
Publicly, Faheem continues to insist he has no difference
with Zardari but says if he is not named PM, he will support
only Zardari and no other choice.

7. (C) Comment: It is still not clear who Zardari will
name for Prime Minister or why he continues to delay an

ISLAMABAD 00001192 002 OF 002


announcement. However, these delays increasingly are
undermining what is a golden PPP opportunity to move forward
on a substantive agenda while the fragile coalition's
honeymoon exists. Faheem is demonstrating surprising
stubbornness in refusing to recognize the political reality
that Zardari is now running the party. No doubt, both the
PML and PML-N would relish any split that weakens the PPP.
While he has sympathy and some support from PPP rank and file
over the way Zardari is treating him, we doubt Faheem can or
will form an effective splinter group.

PATTERSON