Pakistan's Ashraf government makes history

Raja Pervez Ashraf speaks to the nation in a televised address, saying: "No one will be able to harm democracy in the future"

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Pakistan's PM has hailed as "a victory" for democracy the completion of a full term by an elected government for the first time in the country's history.

"No-one will be able to harm democracy in future," Raja Pervez Ashraf said.

An interim government will now be installed until the next election, which is expected to be held in May.

Since Pakistan was founded in 1947, government were often overthrown in coups, toppled by political infighting or end in assassinations or murders.

But overhanging the democratic transition is the continuing militancy and growing sectarian unrest, the BBC's Mike Wooldridge in Islamabad says.

'No rivers of milk and honey'

"There is a long history of tussle between the democratic and undemocratic forces in Pakistan, but the democratic forces have finally achieved a victory," Mr Ashraf said in a televised address to the nation.

Analysis

Pakistan turned a new page in history at midnight Saturday when an official decree ended the life of its parliament and cabinet. It was a natural demise, not a violent death. There was no political upheaval, and no military intervention. Never before has a civilian government packed up so peacefully.

Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf emphasized this point In his farewell address to the nation, and counted the costs his PPP party had paid to make this transition possible. But he admitted his government couldn't turn Pakistan into a "land of milk and honey".

Analysts say the government deserves credit for strengthening the legal and procedural infrastructure for democracy, but it also deserves criticism for failing to check militancy, improve the economy or stamp out corruption.

As the debate continues, the transition is clearly headed for a situation in which the Pakistani voters will have their first opportunity ever to approve or dismiss a government themselves, instead of someone else doing it for them.

He added that Pakistan had finally managed to strengthen "the foundations of democracy".

And admitting that his governing Pakistan People's Party (PPP) may not have been "able to provide rivers of milk and honey", the prime minister said it had tried its best to alleviate the country's problems.

Mr Ashraf also promised that the forthcoming elections would be free and fair, and said he hoped the parties would reach consensus "amicably" on which of the rival candidates should head the caretaker cabinet.

Pakistan's parliament was dissolved at midnight local time (19:00) GMT, and the interim administration is expected to be installed in the next few days.

Two opposition parties - led by ex-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and former cricket star Imran Khan - are expected to present the greatest challenge to the PPP in the elections. x

At the same time, Mr Ashraf is facing a corruption investigation over allegations that he took bribes while he was a minister.

Mr Ashraf, who became prime minister after his predecessor was forced out amid a dispute with the judiciary, has been in the job for less than a year.

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