Nirupama Subramanian

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s National Assembly was witness to as much drama as was being played out on the streets of the capital on Monday.

A virtual no-contest in the prime ministerial election, anti-Musharraf and pro-Benazir slogans from the packed visitors’ galleries, a tearful Bilawal Zardari Bhutto watching the proceedings, and, of course, the announcement by the Prime Minister-elect that eclipsed his election — the release of the deposed Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhary and other judges detained since November 3, when President Pervez Musharraf ousted them by imposing an Emergency rule.

When Speaker Fahmida Mirza announced that the Pakistan People’s Party candidate Yousuf Raza Gillani had won with 264 votes, the visitors’ galleries, packed with supporters of the newly elected parliamentarians rang out with “go Musharraf Go” and “Zinda Hai Bhutto, Zinda Hai,” (Bhutto is alive).

The members thumped their desks in approval. Sitting in the visitor’s gallery with his father Asif Ali Zardari’s sister, Bilawal, who succeeded his slain mother Benazir as PPP chairman, kept wiping away the tears that just would not stop.

Mr. Zardari, who attended the opening day of Parliament with his coalition partner Nawaz Sharif, was not present.

Mr. Gillani’s opponent Chaudhary Pervez Elahi of the Pakistan Muslim League (Q) received just 42 votes.

In a speech after he was declared elected by an overwhelming majority — way over two-thirds — in the 342-seat House, Mr. Gillani of the PPP set three immediate tasks for the new government.

Standing ovation

The third, release of the judges, was the first to be implemented as soon as he uttered the words on the floor of the House to standing ovation, even in the press gallery, where all journalists stood up to record their approval.

Not far from the Assembly, the police immediately began removing the barricades at the entrance to the Judges Colony, where the deposed Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhary and other judges had been detained all this time, while the Islamabad administration declared them free.

Judges reinstatement

But Mr. Gillani said the judges must now leave it to Parliament to resolve the issue of their reinstatement, as promised in the Murree declaration between the PPP and the Pakistan Muslim League.

To the thumping of desks and applause and slogans from the gallery, the new Prime Minister, who is to be sworn in on Tuesday, said his first task would be to get the National Assembly to pass a resolution for a United Nations investigation into the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.

Apology

He said the Assembly would also pass a resolution apologising to the people of Pakistan for the “judicial murder” of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

Mr. Gillani said “no one person can solve the problems that face the country” and called on all parties in the coalition as well as the Opposition to pull together to take Pakistan forward.

Mr. Gillani was voted in as the Prime Minister by the PPP, the PML(N), the Awami National Party, the Jamiat-e-Ulema Islami and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement.

The MQM has not formally joined the coalition.

Utter chaos

The chaos of democracy loomed large over the Assembly during the proceedings. Mr. Gillani’s speech was constantly interrupted by pro-Bhutto slogans from the galleries, while Mr. Elahi’s speech was continuously booed by the visitors.

Dr. Mirza made several appeals for quiet, but they fell on deaf ears.

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