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February 19, 2008
Pakistani Elections Produce a Chance for Democracy
Results are trickling in and the final tally won't be known until tomorrow, but if preliminary results hold up, the two largest secular parties in Pakistan will have won big victories while the Islamist and conservative parties have gone down to humiliating defeats:
Final results are not expected until tomorrow, but preliminary figures suggest that the PPP will win the most seats followed by the Pakistan Muslim League (N) led by Nawaz Sharif, another former Prime Minister. Much to the surprise of many observers, the vote seems to have been basically honest, although there were reports of irregularities in Punjab, the largest province and where the most hotly contested races were being run.
The PML (Q), which split from Mr Sharif’s party and supports President Musharraf, was lagging in third place with several of its leading figures — including the party’s leader — losing their seats. Tariq Azeem, a PML (Q) spokesman, said: “People have given their verdict. We respect it. We congratulate the PML (N) and PPP. As far as we are concerned, we will be willing to sit on opposition benches if final results prove that we have lost.”
The makeup of a coalition government will be negotiated in the next few days but a front-runner to be prime minister is Makhdoom Amin Fahim, 68, the PPP vice-chairman and veteran Bhutto loyalist.
With the PPP and PML in charge, the first order of business will be to see if they can muster a 2/3 vote of impeachment against Musharraf. The Pakistani president has angered so many people that it is still a distinct possibility that some of the smaller parties would join the main coalition in voting Musharraf out. Otherwise, the PPP/PML coalition will not have enough votes for impeachment alone.
Perhaps it's just as well. Musharraf is probably as good as the US can expect when it comes to a Pakistani leader willing to help us in the war on terrorism. But some of that cooperation may be curtailed by a strong strain of anti-Americanism in the new coalition.
Judging by these results, it's not as good as it could have been but a lot better than what was expected in the aftermath of former Prime Minister Bhutto's death. It seems that this is an election that most of the Pakistani people will accept. And that's the first step on the road to a more democratic Pakistan.