Zardari to address jt session for record 5th time

Islamabad: Asif Ali Zardari is set to script history by becoming the first Pakistani President to deliver a record fifth address to a joint session of Parliament at a time when the government led by his PPP party is grappling with crises and facing a strong challenge from the judiciary.

The PPP is plugging the event as another achievement in its efforts to strengthen democracy in the country.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani recently became Pakistan`s longest-serving Premier and the ruling party has been highlighting its role in pushing through Constitutional amendments in the face of widespread criticism of its poor governance and failure to tackle corruption and a crippling energy crisis.

Zardari`s address to a joint session of the Senate and National Assembly later today will outline the PPP-led coalition government`s policies for the final year of its five-year term.
The News daily reported that the speech is expected to praise Gilani for his tackling of various challenges.

The one-day joint session of both houses of Parliament will meet a Constitutional requirement for a Presidential address at the start of a new Parliamentary year. The Senate and National Assembly are set to reconvene next week to debate new terms of engagement with the US.

Gilani ordered a Parliamentary review of Pakistan-US ties in November after a cross-border NATO air strike killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. The Parliamentary Committee on National Security has framed recommendations for a comprehensive revamp of bilateral relations and these will be taken up during the joint session scheduled to begin on March 19.

PPP insiders told PTI that the party had decided not to advance the general election following its strong performance in recent bye-elections to the provincial and national assemblies and the Senate polls.

The party had earlier considered the option of holding the general election in October, instead of March 2013 as scheduled, when it was engaged in a standoff with the judiciary and the military.

The PPP emerged the single largest party in the Senate during polls to the upper house of Parliament earlier this month. The party and its allies bagged a majority of provincial and national assembly seats where bypolls were held recently.

The PPP-led government was engaged in a standoff with the powerful military last year over a mysterious memo that sought the US help to prevent a feared military coup in Pakistan.

That crisis has largely blown over as American businessman Mansoor Ijaz, the main accuser, has largely been unable to back up his claims with evidence. The government continues to face pressure from the Supreme Court to revive graft cases against Zardari in Switzerland.

The apex court has set March 21 as the deadline for the Premier to approach Swiss authorities to reopen the cases but Gilani has said he would be jailed for contempt of court than violate the Constitution, which guarantees immunity to the President.