The National Assembly, Pakistan's lower house of Parliament, passed a constitutional amendment October 9 that would give the government sweeping powers to impose full-fledged Islamic law based on the Qur'an. But several factors may prevent the two-thirds majority needed for passage in the Senate, the upper chamber.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif proposed the amendment in August as a way to consolidate power among fundamentalists within his ruling Muslim League party. The new legislation would require the government to enforce prayers five times daily, collect annual tithes, and abolish civil laws not conforming to the Qur'an and other teachings of Muhammad.

Sharif says the amendment is needed to "create a truly Islamic system" in Pakistan. But former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto warns that its passage could result in the same strict Islamic regime as the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan.

Existing blasphemy laws in Pakistan have been used against Christians, who represent 2 percent of the nation's 142 million people. More than 100 Christians have been charged under the blasphemy laws, which require the death penalty for insults to Muhammad.

The National Assembly, which includes a two-thirds majority of Sharif's Muslim League party, adopted the measure by a 151-to-16 vote. In the Senate, only 25 percent of the members are part of the Muslim League party, although there have been reports of attempts to "buy" votes.

Steven Snyder, president of the Washington, D.C.-based International Christian Concern, believes the United States plays a key role in keeping the pressure on Pakistan, which has been under economic sanctions since testing nuclear bombs earlier this year.

"Pakistan has turned away from her founding principles, which declared freedom of worship for all faiths," Snyder says. "Unless there is strong international condemnation of Pakistan's present course, it will be only a matter of time until all Pakistan is embroiled in turmoil and bloodshed."

Accusations of corruption against Sharif and Pakistan's shaky economic standing may derail the law. Sharif allegedly took kickbacks for political influence and siphoned millions of dollars from loans on which his companies defaulted. The country is close to economic ruin and in desperate need of an International Monetary Fund bailout.

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