Pakistan PM bids farewell, hails victory for democracy

ISLAMABAD (AFP) - Pakistan Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf on Saturday hailed parliament's historic completion of a full term in office as a victory for democracy as he gave his farewell address to the nation.

The nuclear-armed country of 180 million, where Taleban attacks and record levels of violence against the Shi'ite Muslim minority have raised fears about security for the polls, is due to elect new leaders by mid-May.

Parliament on Thursday became the first in Pakistan's history to complete a full term, its dissolution a milestone in a country where the military has seized power three times in coups and ruled for around half the country's existence.

"It is matter of pleasure for me that an ordinary person like me is today prime minister of Pakistan and giving a hope of continuation of democracy to the nation," Mr Ashraf said in a nationwide televised address.

"There is a long history of tussle between the democratic and undemocratic forces in Pakistan, but the democratic forces have finally achieved a victory."

Analysts attribute the successful completion of the parliamentary term to Mr Zardari's wheeler-dealer ability to keep the coalition intact, the army chief of staff's determination to keep out of politics and the opposition's unwillingness to force early elections.

But despite passing key legislation, which rolled back decades of meddling by military rulers, parliament has presided over staggering economic decline and worsening security over the last five years.

Mr Ashraf said key achievements in his party's rule included the devolution of power to the provinces, but he admitted the government had been unable to solve the energy crisis.

He appealed for people to participate in the May elections, assuring voters that they would be fair.

"In the presence of political parties, independent election commission, effective media, civil society and judiciary, there is no chance of rigging in elections now," he said.

"I appeal to all political parties, national institutions, civil society and mass media to complete the election process in an independent, peaceful and pleasant environment."

Mr Ashraf said he had reached agreement with the four chief ministers of the provinces for holding national and provincial elections on the same day.

The polling date is yet to be announced, but officials say the Election Commission has recommended May 8, 9 or 10.

Politicians are still negotiating the make-up of a caretaker administration which is set to replace the government within days for the duration of the election campaign.

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