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Parliament allows Musharraf to remain army chief
Updated: 2004-11-01 21:41

Pakistan's parliament approved a bill allowing President Pervez Musharraf to remain as army chief, less than 12 months after the general admitted that leading both the nation and military was undemocratic.

Pervez Musharraf [AFP]
Two weeks after the lower house passed the bill, the government-dominated Senate on Monday endorsed the legislation amid opposition uproar.

The debate leading up to the vote was punctuated by cries from opposition senators of "Shame, shame" and "Go Musharraf, go, we don't accept the rule of the gun".

The bill was eventually passed on a voice vote after opposition senators walked out of the chamber.

Musharraf, who seized power five years ago, must now sign the bill into law. It will formally see him break a public promise to quit his military post by the end of this year.

"I have been saying that a president in uniform is undemocratic but it was important due to the peculiar circumstances in Pakistan," Musharraf said in a national address in December last year, as he vowed to relinquish the army post.

His promise was part of a deal with the opposition Islamic Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) bloc in return for its parliamentary support for constitutional amendments that validated his presidency and gave him sweeping powers.

One of these powers was the authority to dismiss parliament.

Musharraf has since said he needs to keep the army post so he can continue the nation's efforts to fight terrorism and seek a peaceful settlement with India of the long-running Kashmir dispute.

Musharraf used his position as army chief to overthrow democratically elected Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and grab power in a bloodless coup in October 1999. He appointed himself president in June 2001.

During the Senate debate, the opposition said Musharraf's dual roles were unconstitutional because laws bar any government servant, including the army chief, from becoming head of state.

"The exemption given to the president would pave the way for the military to maintain its control on national politics and undermines civilian rule," opposition Pakistan Peoples Party senator Raza Rabbani told AFP.

"It is the darkest day in Pakistani parliamentary history when a parliament on its own accord has squandered and surrendered civil authority in the face of the uniform.

"It is a bill which violates the basic structure of the constitution."

Two major opposition alliances, the MMA and the secular Alliance for Restoration for Democracy, have vowed to launch a public campaign this month to pressure Musharraf to stand down as army chief.

The new law does not put a time limit on how long Musharraf can hold both posts although his term as president is meant to end in 2007.

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