Pakistan's Musharraf wins vote of confidence

 

President Pervez Musharraf won a vote of confidence in both houses of Pakistan's parliament and four provincial assemblies today, keeping him in power until late 2007, officials said.

The vote means Mr Musharraf, who took power in a 1999 bloodless coup, will remain president until late 2007. It follows the approval this week of a series of constitutional amendments by both houses of parliament that gave him vast powers, including the authority to dismiss the elected government.

"The Senate, National Assembly and four provincial assemblies have expressed their confidence in President Musharraf," chief election commissioner Mr Irshad Hasan Khan said on national television, announcing the results.

General Musharraf, he said, "is hereby declared elected".

The vote is a timely boost for Musharraf ahead of the visit of Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee for an important regional summit in Islamabad beginning Sunday. Official results showed Mr Musharraf secured 658 votes in total, out of 1,170 seats in all assemblies.

There was only one vote against Mr Musharraf after opposition parties boycotted the vote or abstained.

"Parliament has consolidated his position," Prime Minister Zafarullah Khan Jamali told reporters inside parliament.

Mr Musharraf was supported in the vote by the Jamali's military-backed coalition government. The constitutional amendments were also backed by a hardline Islamic alliance, the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), to give Musharraf the two-thirds majority he needed.

But the Islamist parties abstained in the confidence vote where Musharraf only needed a simple majority.

Before the vote, parliamentarians from secular opposition parties staged noisy protests in both houses of parliament, chanting "go Musharraf go".

They then walked out to boycott the vote. "It is most unfortunate that the new year has begun on a such a sad note," said Senator Farhatullah Babar, spokesman for the Pakistan Peoples' Party of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

"The democratic opposition condemn and reject this intrusion into the presidency and the parliament by a serving military general," he said.

Mr Musharraf handed some powers to a prime minister after elections in October 2002, but remains easily the most powerful man in the country. Under a deal with the MMA, Mr Musharraf will keep the post of military chief until the end of 2004.

The MMA, which vehemently opposes Mr Musharraf's decision to side with the United States in war against terror, has said that it supported the amendments to end a political deadlock which had paralysed both houses of parliament since the 2002 elections.

Analysts say Mr Musharraf has strengthened his position by getting parliamentary approval for his presidency and for constitutional changes he introduced after returning the country to democracy in 2002.

Mr Musharraf, a staunch ally of Washington in the war against terror, survived a suicide bombing on Thursday blamed on Islamic militants, the second assassination attempt in 11 days.