Pakistan Peoples Party leader Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani was elected Pakistan’s 25th Prime Minister on Monday, polling over 2/3rd votes in the 342-member National Assembly amid cries of “Go Musharraf, Go Musharraf” and “Zinda hai Bhutto zinda hai.”
Of the votes polled, Gilani got 264 against 42 of Opposition PML-Q nominee and former Punjab Chief Minister Pervez Illahi. The Muttahida Quami Movement which is not part of the ruling alliance also supported Gilani.
Seated in the visitors’ gallery with his paternal aunt, Faryal Talpur, PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari couldn’t hold back his tears as Speaker Fahmida Mirza announced the results amid slogans eulogising Benazir and thumping of desks by supporters and members of the PPP-led People’s Democratic Alliance (PDP).
Bilawal regained his composure and smiled broadly when Gilani rushed to shake hands with him before walking up to hug ANP leader and PDP ally Asfandyar Wali and Illahi, the vanquished PML-Q challenger. Soon thereafter, he took the floor to seek cooperation of the entire House, notably the Opposition. At the House Leader’s assigned seat, television cameras showed him placing Benazir’s black and white portrait on the desk twice occupied by her.
Among other prominent faces in the visitors’ gallery was Supreme Court Bar Association president and leader of the lawyers’ movement, Aitzaz Ahsan and PMl-Q chief Shujaat Hussain. Conspicuous by their absence were Asif Ali Zardari and Nawaz Sharif, both of whom aren’t members of the Assembly yet.
Taking the floor soon after being declared elected, Gilani quickly addressed the issue of the judiciary’s independence. He said as PM, his first decision will be the release of the detained judges, including former Chief Justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Chaudhry whom President Pervez Musharraf humiliated and sent packing during his November 3 Emergency rule.
“I will request the advocates to have their problems resolved not through street protests but through Parliament which is the highest law making body,” Gilani said, promising to make a policy statement upon taking oath and a confidence vote as the new Premier. He exhorted the Assembly to pass resolutions for a UN probe into Benazir’s murder and for tendering an apology for the hanging of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.
Laying emphasis on consensus building and strengthening institutions, he said his government was for a strong judiciary, press and parliament. “We cannot succeed without parliament’s supremacy, adherence to the Constitution and the rule of law,” he said.
Gilani’s conciliatory approach was matched somewhat by Illahi who did not, however, miss the opportunity to remind the ruling PDA of its promise to control the galloping inflation and cut down to half the prices of essential commodities. The catch in his statement also lay in the call against confrontation between institutions (read parliament and Musharraf) and putting the burden of rising oil prices on the common people.
Illahi revealed his right-wing party’s agenda in the Opposition by seeking Gilani’s assurance against any cuts in the defence budget and the vigorous pursuit of Pakistan’s missile and nuclear programmes. He welcomed peace with India but felt the goal could be best realised by “travelling the road through Kashmir”.