Fahmida Mirza, a former medical doctor, on Wednesday became the first woman speaker of the National Assembly as the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and its allies, poised to form the government, showed their strength and voted for her.
Only 324 parliamentarians were present in the National Assembly or the lower house of Pakistan's parliament, and Mirza received 249 votes. Israr Tareen, her rival candidate from the former ruling party Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q), secured only 70 votes.
"Fahmida Mirza is declared to have been elected speaker of the National Assembly," Chaudhry Amir Hussain, the outgoing speaker, said as MPs pounded their desks in approval and congratulated the purple-veiled former medical doctor.
Later, elections for the deputy speaker were held in which PPP candidate Faisal Kundi defeated Khushbakht Shujaat of the Mutahidda Qaumi Movement (MQM), who was supported by PML-Q.
Mirza was the joint candidate of PPP, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, Awami National Party (ANP) and other allied parties.
"This is my third tenure in the National Assembly and I believe it is time that we all work together to address the challenges facing the country," Mirza told reporters before the session.
"I am sure we will be able to face these challenges with the support of parliamentarians, our people and Pakistani media."
Mirza hails from Badin in Sindh and has been winning elections continuously since 1997. Her husband Zulfiqar Ali Mirza is a close friend of PPP chief Asif Ali Zardari.
Hailing from an influential political family of Sindh, Mirza, 52, has won the National Assembly seat in open electoral contest from Badin in 1997, 2002 and 2008.
Her grandfather Qazi Abdul Qayyum was the first Muslim president of the Hyderabad Municipality. Her uncle Qazi Muhammad Akbar was member of the Provincial Assembly and served as minister of home, finance, public works and information at various times.
Mirza's father Qazi Abid started his political career as chairman of the Hyderabad Division Council. He later served as federal minister for education, water and power, food and agriculture and information. He was also thrice secretary general of the All Pakistan Newspaper Society (APNS) and owns a big publication house in Pakistan.
"The election of Fahmida Mirza as speaker will be a big step towards the empowerment of women in Pakistan," Shah Mahmood Qureshi, a central PPP leader, told reporters.
The alliance that is opposed to President Pervez Musharraf swept the February 18 elections, defeating the PML-Q backed by him. The alliance is set to form the government next week but it is not clear yet who will be heading it.
The PML-N and other allied parties have given the authority to the PPP to nominate the prime minister.
Zardari, widower of the assassinated former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, co-chairs the party with his son Bilawal Zardari. He is himself interested in heading the government but is not member of the National Assembly, a pre-requisite to become a prime minister.
Not being a graduate also may keep him away from the bypolls to be held next month if parliament cannot undo the restriction imposed by Musharraf that only graduates can contest the polls.
However, Bilawal, who is studying law at Oxford University in London, arrived in Karachi on Wednesday noon and was likely to address a press conference later in the day.
"The 19-year-old son of Bhutto would announce the name of prime minister in the press conference," party's information secretary Sherry Rehman told reporters but was not sure when the press conference will be held.