ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Legislators elected Pakistan’s first female speaker of parliament Wednesday, seating a follower of assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.
Fehmida Mirza’s elevation reflected the air of liberalism blowing through the country’s politics since voters delivered a resounding defeat to backers of President Pervez Musharraf, the former general who has been a close U.S. ally.
However, many Pakistanis are warily watching the victorious elitist parties, worried over whether politicians whose civilian governments in the 1990s were tainted by corruption and ineptitude will be able to deal with Islamic militants and economic hardships.
In a first sign of trouble, the new leaders are struggling to agree on who should be prime minister. There was less of a problem in picking the speaker.
Mirza, a businesswoman and physician elected to parliament three times, won 249 of the 324 votes cast in the National Assembly, parliament’s lower house. Israr Tareen, a coal-mining magnate and Musharraf supporter, got only 70. Five ballots were invalid.
“Being a woman, it gives me immense pride and happiness to see you on that chair,” Saima Akhtar Bharwana, a lawmaker from Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party, said after Mirza was sworn in.
“You do resemble Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto Sahiba, and I wish and hope that you do resemble her and match her, match in intelligence and wit that she possessed,” Bharwana said.
Sympathy over Bhutto’s slaying in a gun-and-suicide-bomb attack Dec. 27 helped carry her party to first place in the Feb. 18 parliamentary elections. Her party is preparing to lead a new coalition government united against Musharraf after eight years of his military rule.