Pakistan's parliament Wednesday convened a special session to elect its first female speaker, a loyalist from the party of slain former prime minister Benazir Bhutto.
Fahmida Mirza, 52, is all but certain to win the top post in the 342-seat lower house of parliament, or national assembly.
"This is my third tenure in the national assembly and I believe it is time that we all work together to address the challenges facing the country," Mirza told reporters before the session.
"I am sure that we will be able to face these challenges with the support of parliamentarians, our people and Pakistani media."
Mirza, a veteran politician from Bhutto's home province of Sindh,
would be the first female speaker in the 60-year history of this deeply conservative Islamic nation of 160 million people.
Bhutto was killed in a gun and suicide attack at an election rally on December 27. Her Pakistan People's Party (PPP) won the most seats in elections last month and is set to lead a coalition government.
"The election of Fahmida Mirza as speaker will be a big step towards the empowerment of women in Pakistan," Shah Mahmood Qureshi, a central PPP leader, told reporters.
The party supporting key US ally President Pervez Musharraf, which suffered a crushing defeat in the elections last month, has also put forth a candidate for the speaker's post.
The speaker conducts the business of the house, deciding which debates or motions are allowed and will play a key role in a parliament that looks set for a major showdown with Musharraf.
Musharraf, whose popularity has slumped amid rising Islamic militancy and economic problems, is desperate to find a political ally after his backers were trounced in the elections on February 18. (AFP)
Pakistan parliament meets to elect first female speaker