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Pakistan Parliament Elects New Prime Minister - 2004-08-27

Pakistan's parliament has elected former Finance Minister Shaukat Aziz as new prime minister of the country in a vote boycotted by the opposition. The National Assembly Friday elected Shaukat Aziz prime minister with 191 votes in the 342-seat parliament. The opposition boycotted the vote after the assembly speaker refused to allow jailed opposition candidate Javed Hashmi to attend the session. The senior opposition leader is serving a life prison term for defaming the military.

The election of Mr. Aziz was expected because the ruling pro-military party has a legislative majority. After the vote, Prime Minister Aziz told lawmakers he plans to continue the government's current policies. He says Pakistan's foreign policy will be further strengthened and all disputes, including Kashmir, will be settled through dialogue with India.

Mr. Aziz will be sworn in and is expected to name a new cabinet on Saturday.

Opposition parties have criticized political maneuvering allegedly orchestrated by President General Pervez Musharraf to get Mr. Aziz elected as prime minister.

"It's a complete farce that is taking place," said Tehmina Daultana, an opposition parliamentarian. "It has been a selection. We are extremely upset at this undemocratic behavior."

Mr. Aziz replaces caretaker prime minister Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, who stepped down this week after only 45 days in office.

That allowed time for the ruling party's permanent choice as the head of the government, Mr. Aziz, to run in by-elections for a seat in the parliament to qualify for the prime minister's post.