CIVIL SOCIETY PAKISTAN

February 20, 2008

—–AND MUSHARRAF LOST

Filed under: ELECTIONS - 2008 — civilsocietypakistan @ 12:13 am
Tags: , , ,

JASARAT

FEBRUARY 20, 2008

EDITORIAL

Advertisements

February 19, 2008

Pakistan’s pro-Musharraf party concedes defeat in elections

Filed under: ELECTIONS - 2008 — civilsocietypakistan @ 10:55 pm
Tags: , , , ,
THE INDEPENDENT

By Andrew Buncombe in Islamabad and Omar Waraich in Wazirabad

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Pakistan’s president Pervez Musharraf is facing perhaps his toughest political challenge after his parliamentary allies admitted defeat in an election poised to change the country’s balance of power. The result has already raised questions about Mr Musharraf’s political future.

Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, head of the Pakistan Muslim League-Q party (PML-Q), told AP Television News that “we accept the results with an open heart” and “will sit on opposition benches” in the new parliament.

While counting of the votes continues, results show the two main opposition parties – the late Benazir Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) of Nawaz Sharif – have secured enough seats to form a majority government if they join in a coalition. The Geo TV network said the two parties had so far won 153 seats, more than half of the 272-seat National Assembly, while the PML-Q – aligned to Mr Musharraf – was trailing in a poor third place as voters rejected the increasingly unpopular president.

Which of the two opposition parties will ultimately most benefit from the situation is not immediately clear and both will likely wait to see their full haul of seats before committing to any deal. But what does seem certain is that the PML-N, lead by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, performed better in Monday’s polls than most had anticipated. In his home city of Lahore there were loud celebrations overnight.

Perhaps aware that he could soon be forced to try and work with an opposition government, Mr Musharraf struck a note of conciliation. “I will give them full cooperation as president, whatever is my role,” he said, after casting his own ballot in the military city of Rawalpindi. “Confrontationist policies…should end and we should come into conciliatory politics in the interest of Pakistan. The situation demands this.”

But if the PPP and PML-N are able to form a government with a majority of two-thirds or more, it would raise even more serious questions about Mr Musharraf’s future. Mr Sharif has been pushing for the impeachment of the president and Mr Musharraf has said he would stand down rather than face such proceedings.

If that were to happen it would mark a remarkable end for the leader whose support just 12 months ago appeared unshakably solid. His approval rating – currently at an all-time low – has tumbled following a series of political errors and soaring prices within the country. His support for the US’s so-called “war on terror” has also been unpopular.

With security concerns high yesterday, officials estimated that turn-out across Pakistan was low, with perhaps as few as 35 per cent of voters bothering to vote. While at least 24 people were killed in election-related violence, many observers had believed the situation could have been considerably worse.

Going into the election, it was always believed the Punjab province – which accounts for more than half of the 272 parliamentary seats at stake – would be the country’s key battleground. Yesterday that appeared to be the case, as the PPP, the PML-N and the “Q” were involved in a three-way fight in many seats.

Yet in numerous seats it was the “Q” that lost out. Among the party’s high profile victims were Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain and former ministers Humayun Akhtar and Sheikh Rashid. Former interior minister Aftab Sherpao was headed for a similar fate.

In the town of Warizabad, located in the heart of the Punjab, there was plenty of anecdotal evidence that suggested Mr Sharif’s party was doing better than most observers had anticipated. “I put my stamp on the tiger,” said Amir Muzaffar, referring to the symbol for Mr Sharif’s PML-N party, as he walked out of the voting booth at a local primary school. “I used to vote for [“Q” candidate, Hamid Nasir] Chattha, but look at what’s happening to this area, to this country. The prices have risen so high, they’re talking to the clouds. And the level of crime here is intolerable.”

At the small polling station in the nearby village of Manzoorabad there was another chorus of support for Mr Sharif. “We’re all with the tiger here,” said one voter. Others praised the former prime minister for overseeing Pakistan’s first nuclear tests in 1998 and said he would “eradicate poverty”.

An initial report by EU election observers is expected to be released tomorrow but those monitoring the polling stations said there was little obvious evidence of irregularity. “I’ve seen nothing egregious,” said one monitor, leaving a polling station in a residential area of Islamabad.

But campaigners also pointed out that the country’s ousted Chief Justice, Iftikhar Chaudhry, remained under house arrest, three months after he was fired by Mr Musharraf after refusing to support his decision to impose a State of Emergency. “The election was rigged on November 3rd,” said one of Mr Chaudhry’s supporters, Athar Minallah, a lawyer. “Without an independent judiciary there can be no fair election.”

The key players

Nawaz Sharif

Ousted during his second term as prime minister by Pervez Musharraf in 1999, Mr Sharif went into exile to avoid jail over tax evasion and kidnapping charges. Last September, he tried to return to lead his Pakistan’s Muslim League-N party, only to be deported within hours. He was allowed to return, though not to stand as a candidate. Mr Sharif has campaigned for the restoration of the Supreme Court judges fired by Mr Musharraf.

Pervez Musharraf

A long-time purported ally of the West, Mr Musharraf’s popularity is at an all-time low, putting huge pressure on the Pakistan Muslim League-Q party to which he is linked. The president has lifted the state of emergency he imposed in November and stood down as head of the armed forces, saying he wants the country to transition towards democracy. But crucial to the future of Pakistan is the extent to which he will share power.

Asif Ali Zardari

The husband of Benazir Bhutto was named co-chair of the PPP after her assassination, at her wish. Mr Zardari has led an impassioned campaign but many in Pakistan believe him to be guilty of widespread corruption. Anecdotal evidence suggests some potential PPP voters are put off by his leadership. While not a candidate, he could be elected in a subsequent by-election allowing him to become prime minister if the PPP form the government.

TINPOT DICTATOR MUSHARRAF OUT TO HIS OLD TRICKS

Filed under: ELECTIONS - 2008 — civilsocietypakistan @ 10:21 pm
Tags: , ,

 

Nawa-e-waqt

February  20, 2008

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 

Pakistan rejects Musharraf rule, cheers democratic turn

Filed under: ELECTIONS - 2008 — civilsocietypakistan @ 10:08 pm
Tags: , , ,

The opposition is expected to win by a landslide in a surprisingly smooth election.

By Mark Sappenfield | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor
         

 

Reporter Mark Sappenfield talks about public reaction to Pakistani parliamentary elections.

On a historic Monday, Pakistan’s voters emphatically rejected the rule of President Pervez Musharraf’s government, eviscerating the parties that supported him and throwing his own future into doubt.

The vote was fraught with significance, both for this crisis-weary country and for the West, which increasingly sees Pakistan as the keystone in its struggle against terrorism. In the short term, the result looks to have given Pakistan a much-needed measure of stability as jubilant voters feel that, finally, their voice has been heard.

In the longer term, the results could recast the nature of America’s attempts to fight terrorists here. While Pakistan’s new leadership will likely share America’s desire to rein in extremists, experts say, they will want to distance themselves from the perception that they are Washington’s lackey, which is the general view of Mr. Musharraf here.

“The coming government will have to give the message that, from now on, they are making decisions on their own,” says Khalid Rahman, a political analyst at the Institute of Policy Studies in Islamabad.

Yet he and others note that the election was a repudiation of Pakistan’s flirtation with radical Islam. At press time, with more than half of the results announced, Islamic parties had taken only three of 272 seats in the National Assembly, compared with 45 in 2002. In their place, voters chose secular parties, such as Benazir Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP).

“This is profoundly a vote for liberal democracy,” says Shafqat Mahmood, a former senator, now a columnist for The News, a national newspaper.

The entire election was a remarkable reverse from expectations. Despite fears of widespread violence, no suicide bombers struck. Despite fears of substantial rigging – and some evidence of it on election day, observers say – the presence of the media and international pressure ensured that it did not play a decisive factor.

“Come election day, there were so many eyes watching,” says Muddasir Rizvi, head of the Free and Fair Election Network, a nonprofit organization that deployed 60,000 observers. There were irregularities, he acknowledges, but “they were not as much as expected.”

Indeed, several of Musharraf’s most powerful parliamentary allies were struck down – to the amazement of voters, who had not believed that the government would allow such a result.

“The result is the blessing of God, otherwise I would not have believed it,” says Mohammed Hafeez, a local resident relaxing near Lahore’s famous Minar-e Pakistan, who says she stayed up until 4 a.m. watching the results on television.

For a country that has grown frustrated with Musharraf’s government, the election brought welcome relief. Residents expressed unabashed joy at the demise of Musharraf’s top ally, the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q), which they blame for rampant inflation and the deterioration of law and order.

“I am very happy,” says Mohammed Amjad Habib, smiling between handfuls of rice at a streetside Lahore restaurant. Echoing many others, he adds: The vote “was an expression of anger against PML-Q.”

His hope, like that of most Pakistanis, is that Pakistan’s two largest parties, the PPP and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s faction of the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) will form a unity government. Projections of the still-unfinished count suggest these two parties could control two-thirds of the seats in parliament if they join with several other small allies.

Abida Hussain, a senior PPP official, expects that to happen. “It is safe to answer that PPP and PML-N … will form a coalition,” she says. The formation of a new governing coalition is expected to be concluded in the next few days.

While it is difficult to predict how such an alliance might address US interests here, it seems certain that it would attempt to project a stronger image of independence than Musharraf has. Pakistanis overwhelmingly feel that America is bullying Pakistan into fighting a war against its own people in the tribal areas.

They would prefer a different approach, with more of an emphasis on negotiation. Analysts expect the new government to take that line. While the substance of the fight against terror will remain, “what will happen is that the nuances, and the public posturing will be different,” says Mr. Mahmood, the columnist.

One of the only stumbling blocks to a grand alliance between the PPP and PML-N could be the issue of the more than 60 judges – including the chief justice of the Supreme Court, Iftikhar Chaudhry – whom Musharraf sacked during his emergency rule late last year. While all opposition parties condemned the move, only PML-N made restoration of the judges a primary campaign platform.

For her part, Ms. Hussain expects to see her PPP unite with PML-N in demanding restoration. If true, the situation would underscore the precariousness of Musharraf’s situation.

In November, he resigned his post as Army chief under intense international and domestic pressure – losing his greatest source of support. Now, his allies in parliament have been dealt a comprehensive defeat, leaving him alone.

“Now very much depends on him,” says Mr. Rahman, the political analyst. “How is he going to accept the attitude of the people?”

It is the moment that opposition parties have been waiting for since Mr. Sharif was overthrown by Musharraf in a bloodless coup in 1999. Prior to that, 10 years of civilian rule was a debacle beset by chronic infighting and corruption. After nearly a decade in exile, however, Bhutto’s widower and head of the PPP, Asif Zardari, and Sharif, in particular, give the impression that they have matured as statesmen.

Says Hussain of the PPP: “What they have learned is that politicians need to tolerate each other.”

US Will Work With New Pakistan Gov’t

Filed under: ELECTIONS - 2008 — civilsocietypakistan @ 10:01 pm
Tags: , , ,

   
U.S. senators, from left, John Kerry, D-Mass., Joseph Biden, D-Del., and Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., speak during a media conference at a hotel in Islamabad, Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2008. Biden, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and one of several U.S. lawmakers who observed Pakistan's parliamentary elections, said Tuesday the results mean the United States can shift its Pakistan policy. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)
U.S. senators, from left, John Kerry, D-Mass., Joseph Biden, D-Del., and Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., speak during a media conference at a hotel in Islamabad, Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2008. Biden, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and one of several U.S. lawmakers who observed Pakistan’s parliamentary elections, said Tuesday the results mean the United States can shift its Pakistan policy. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian) (Vincent Thian – AP)
U.S. senators, Joseph Biden, D-Del., left, talks to Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., during a press conference at a hotel in Islamabad, Pakistan, Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2008. Biden, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and one of several U.S. lawmakers who observed Pakistan's parliamentary elections, said Tuesday the results mean the United States can shift its Pakistan policy. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)
U.S. senators, Joseph Biden, D-Del., left, talks to Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., during a press conference at a hotel in Islamabad, Pakistan, Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2008. Biden, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and one of several U.S. lawmakers who observed Pakistan’s parliamentary elections, said Tuesday the results mean the United States can shift its Pakistan policy. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian) (Vincent Thian – AP)
 

By MATTHEW LEE

The Associated Press
Tuesday, February 19, 2008; 12:52 PM

WASHINGTON — The Bush administration said Tuesday it expects to work alongside whatever new government is formed in Pakistan, where a key ally has conceded defeat in parliamentary elections and would be forced to share power if he remains in office.

The State Department also said it hopes the new government will cooperate with President Pervez Musharraf, although a spokesman said the United States is not trying to tell anyone what to do.

“Ultimately President Musharraf is still the president of Pakistan and certainly we would hope that whoever becomes prime minister and whoever winds up in charge of the new government would be able to work with him and with all other factions,” State Department spokesman Tom Casey said.

White House press secretary Dana Perino, traveling with President Bush in Africa, said it is too soon to know whether the election diluted Musharraf’s clout.

“I think what President Musharraf has shown is an ability to provide for the country a chance to be confident in their government,” she said.

Casey said opposition parties that did well in Monday’s voting are, like Musharraf, pledged to fighting terrorism and promoting democracy.

“We want to work with the new government, we expect we can work with the new government, and have good cooperation with them,” Casey said. “We’ve maintained ties to all the major political parties both before and during this electoral period and certainly expect to do so afterward as well.”

The United States held off on a definitive assessment of the voting until final results are in, but the State Department said it welcomed the largely peaceful election and called it a step toward restoring democracy in the key U.S. anti-terror ally.

The voting was postponed from January after the assassination of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto. Musharraf’s ruling party acknowledged defeat even before the final results were in and said it will “sit on opposition benches” in parliament.

The results cast doubt on the political future of Musharraf, who was re-elected to a five-year term last October in an election that opponents called rigged. With the support of smaller groups and independent candidates, the opposition could gain the two-thirds majority in parliament needed to impeach the president.

Musharraf has promised to work with whatever government emerges from the election, and he could stay on with limited powers. The former general is hugely unpopular among the public and opposition parties that have been catapulted into power may find little reason to work with him _ particularly because at U.S. urging he gave up his dual role heading the powerful army.

Sen. Joseph Biden, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and one of several U.S. lawmakers who traveled to Islamabad to observe the election, said Tuesday the results mean the United States can shift its Pakistan policy.

“This is an opportunity for us to move from a policy that has been focused on a personality to one based on an entire people,” Biden said, adding that Washington should help democracy take deeper root in Pakistan.

Traveling with President Bush in Africa, Perino said it was important that the election instill confidence among the Pakistani people.

“For many weeks, almost months now, since the announcement that there would be elections on Feb. 18th, what we have encouraged is for people to be able to express their vote freely, and for this election to inspire confidence in people about their government,” she said in Kigali, Rwanda.

Pakistan’s Ruling Party Concedes Defeat -WASHINGTON POST

Filed under: ELECTIONS - 2008 — civilsocietypakistan @ 9:55 pm
Tags: , , , , ,
A Pakistani man and his son join fellow supporters of the political party of slain opposition leader Benazir Bhutto after the closing of the polls in Karachi, Pakistan Monday Feb. 18, 2008. Pakistanis voted Monday for a new parliament in an election shadowed by fears of violence and questions about the political survival of President Pervez Musharraf. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)
A Pakistani man and his son join fellow supporters
of the political party of slain opposition leader Benazir Bhutto after the closing of the polls in Karachi, Pakistan Monday Feb. 18, 2008. Pakistanis voted Monday for a new parliament in an election shadowed by fears of violence and questions about the political survival of President Pervez Musharraf. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder) (David Guttenfelder – AP)
Supporters of Pakistan's Awami National Party celebrate the victory of their leaders in parliamentary elections, in Peshawar, Pakistan on Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2008. Pakistan's ruling party conceded defeat Tuesday after opposition parties routed allies of President Pervez Musharraf in parliamentary elections that could threaten the rule of America's close ally in the war on terror. (AP Photo/Mohammad Zubair)
Supporters of Pakistan’s Awami National Party celebrate the victory of their leaders in parliamentary elections, in Peshawar, Pakistan on Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2008. Pakistan’s ruling party conceded defeat Tuesday after opposition parties routed allies of President Pervez Musharraf in parliamentary elections that could threaten the rule of America’s close ally in the war on terror. (AP Photo/Mohammad Zubair) (Mohammad Zubair – AP)
Pakistani tribal people block Peshawar Kabul Road leading to Afghanistan, to protest election results in Pakistan's tribal area of Khyber close to the Afghan border on Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2008. Pakistan's ruling party conceded defeat Tuesday after opposition parties routed allies of President Pervez Musharraf in parliamentary elections that could threaten the rule of America's close ally in the war on terror. (AP Photo/B.K.Bangash)
Pakistani tribal people block Peshawar Kabul Road leading to Afghanistan, to protest election results in Pakistan’s tribal area of Khyber close to the Afghan border on Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2008. Pakistan’s ruling party conceded defeat Tuesday after opposition parties routed allies of President Pervez Musharraf in parliamentary elections that could threaten the rule of America’s close ally in the war on terror. (AP Photo/B.K.Bangash) (B.k.bangash – AP)
Pakistani tribal people block the Peshawar-Kabul road to protest the election result against their candidate in Pakistan's tribal area of Khyber, which is close to Afghanistan border on Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2008. Pakistan's ruling party conceded defeat Tuesday after opposition parties routed allies of President Pervez Musharraf in parliamentary elections that could threaten the rule of America's close ally in the war on terror. (AP Photo/B.K.Bangash)
Pakistani tribal people block the Peshawar-Kabul road to protest the election result against their candidate in Pakistan’s tribal area of Khyber, which is close to Afghanistan border on Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2008. Pakistan’s ruling party conceded defeat Tuesday after opposition parties routed allies of President Pervez Musharraf in parliamentary elections that could threaten the rule of America’s close ally in the war on terror. (AP Photo/B.K.Bangash) (B.k.bangash – AP)
A Pakistani police officer holds his weapon as a worker tears electoral posters down in Lahore, Pakistan on Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2008. Opposition parties dealt a crushing electoral blow to allies of President Pervez Musharraf, a private TV network reported Tuesday, winning enough seats to form a new government that could threaten the eight-year rule of America's close ally in its war on terror. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)
A Pakistani police officer holds his weapon as a worker tears electoral posters down in Lahore, Pakistan on Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2008. Opposition parties dealt a crushing electoral blow to allies of President Pervez Musharraf, a private TV network reported Tuesday, winning enough seats to form a new government that could threaten the eight-year rule of America’s close ally in its war on terror. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti) (Emilio Morenatti – AP)
Supporters of a losing political candidate scuffle during a protest outside the government administrator's office in Peshawar, Pakistan on Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2008. Pakistan's ruling party conceded defeat Tuesday after opposition parties routed allies of President Pervez Musharraf in parliamentary elections that could threaten the rule of America's close ally in the war on terror. (AP Photo/Mohammad Zubair)
Supporters of a losing political candidate scuffle du
ring a protest outside the government administrator’s office in Peshawar, Pakistan on Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2008. Pakistan’s ruling party conceded defeat Tuesday after opposition parties routed allies of President Pervez Musharraf in parliamentary elections that could threaten the rule of America’s close ally in the war on terror. (AP Photo/Mohammad Zubair) (Mohammad Zubair – AP)
   

   

Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, February 19, 2008; 11:37 AM

LAHORE, Pakistan, Feb. 19 — Pakistan’s pro-government party conceded defeat Tuesday in historic parliamentary elections, as opposition leaders called for President Pervez Musharraf to step down after the resounding public verdict against his eight years as military ruler.

With official election returns nearly complete from Monday’s voting, the two major opposition parties had won at least 153 seats in the 272-member National Assembly, while the pro-government Pakistan Muslim League–Q faction had won only 38.
Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, who heads the pro-Musharraf PML–Q, said his party would “accept the results with an open heart,” and plans to “sit on the opposition benches” in the new Parliament.The Pakistan People’s Party, led by former prime minister Benazir Bhutto before her assassination in December, appeared to capture the most seats, with 87. Bhutto’s husband, who took over the party after her death, said the PPP would look to build a coalition among opposition groups.

“For now, the decision of the party is that we are not interested in any of those people who are part and parcel of the last government,” Asif Ali Zardari said in Islamabad, wire services reported.

In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Nicole Thompson told the Associated Press that the United States considers the vote “an important step on the path towards an elected, civilian democracy,” and was “pleased” that the vote had taken place after months of violence and controversy leading up to it.

The vote is a sharp rebuke for Musharraf, a top U.S. ally who had fallen far out of favor with voters. The country’s opposition groups outpaced other parties by wide margins in several key provinces, including Punjab, home to more than half of this country’s 80 million eligible voters.

Hussain, along with several other prominent party leaders allied with Musharraf, lost their seats in Parliament, according to Pakistan’s Dawn News, an English-language television station.

In a televised address early Monday, Musharraf, who had promised to hold “free, fair and transparent” elections, pledged to abide by the results.

“This is the voice of the nation,” he said on state-run Pakistan Television. “Everyone should accept the results. That includes myself.”

Sporadic reports of clashes at polling stations and several bombings across Pakistan appeared to have kept many voters at home, particularly in urban areas. Opposition parties and election observers cited some instances of rigging and voter intimidation.

Pakistan has experienced widespread tumult since last year, when huge protests erupted following Musharraf’s decision to fire the chief justice of the Supreme Court and place him and several other jurists under house arrest. In the following months, public frustration grew over increasing insurgent violence, rising consumer prices and corruption. In December, following the assassination of Bhutto, the president’s popularity fell to an all-time low.

 

Monday’s elections were widely seen as a referendum on Musharraf. Critics alleged that, because the president had been weakened, his government would attempt to manipulate the results to ensure his allies remained in power. A hostile parliament could move to impeach Musharraf, who has held power since a 1999 coup.

Rana Muhammad Riaz, 50, an engineering administrator who cast his vote in Rawalpindi, shrugged off suggestions that rigging would affect the outcome.”I’m hopeful that we will have a democracy,” he said. “Right now we have democracy, but it is not a complete democracy.”

In the Punjab city of Lahore, the nation’s cultural hub and second-largest city, polling was generally orderly, but turnout was extremely low. A provincial assembly candidate was killed Sunday night, casting a pall on voting throughout the city.

Across Lahore, a stronghold of the Pakistan Muslim League faction headed by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, early returns showed his party to be winning by a landslide, with the opposition Pakistan People’s Party coming in a distant second and Musharraf’s party trailing further behind.

But a majority of voters, it appeared, decided not to go to the polls at all. By 1 p.m., at one polling station in Lahore’s densely populated Old City, only 250 out of 1,500 registered voters had cast their ballots. Similar low turnouts were reported at many other stations.

“This is due to the uncertain atmosphere, the threat of terrorism,” said Mohammed Badwa, an economics professor who served as the manager of one polling station. “The procedure is transparent and orderly inside, but the people are very much afraid of violence outside.”

Lahore has been at the epicenter of protests by Pakistan’s lawyers, who took to the streets by the thousands in November following Musharraf’s decision to fire the Supreme Court chief justice, Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, and detain the president of the Supreme Court bar association, Aitzaz Ahsan, both of whom had been critical of the government.

Several opposition politicians and groups called for the chief justice’s reinstatement. Most notable among them was Sharif. Although Sharif is not running for office, his stance on the judiciary appeared to garner the party widespread support at the polls.

“He espoused very clearly and very stridently the cause of the chief justice,” said Ahsan, who spoke by phone from his home in Lahore. “This was an election about Pervez Musharraf. I think that had the Pakistan People’s Party adopted the same position from the outset, I think it would have swept the polls, and the national grief with Bhutto’s assassination would have translated into a strong position, and nothing would have stopped them.”

Sherry Rehman, chief spokeswoman for the Pakistan People’s Party, said that it was too early to predict the outcome and that Bhutto’s party had a strong showing in several areas of the country, including the party’s traditional stronghold of Sindh province, Bhutto’s ancestral home. Rehman said the party had received hundreds of complaints from voters about rigging at the polls, adding that a delay in delivering ballots to officials charged with counting the vote was especially troubling.

“We’re not getting the results. They have been delayed, which in Pakistan means they will be changed,” Rehman said.


A Western election observer who spent the day touring polling stations near the northwestern city of Peshawar reported witnessing violence and irregularities. The observer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, said problems were particularly rife at several women’s polling stations.

“The most egregious irregularities we saw were at the women’s polling stations. There were missing voters’ lists, misuse of ballot boxes, intimidation of voters,” the observer said. “These were in the most secure areas and more affluent areas. I mean, if this was happening here, I could just imagine how bad it must have been in some of the rural areas.”In Pakistan’s restive tribal areas, local officials reported that nine security officials were believed to have been kidnapped in the town of Baka Khel in North Waziristan. Police launched a search for them, but there was no immediate word on their whereabouts.

Many polling stations across the northwest were all but deserted during the first half of the day. Problems were compounded as reports of violence around the country began to trickle in. Local news media and several local officials said three explosions occurred in the northwest Swat Valley. The once-serene valley has been roiled in the past year by dozens of skirmishes between Taliban fighters and government troops.

In the densely populated military enclave of Rawalpindi, the flow of voters at one polling station was snarled for more than an hour after election officials opened the polls late.

“I arrived about an hour ago, and I have been unable to vote because they did not open the polls, and the election officials are saying that they do not have the list with my name on it,” said Hafiz ur-Rehman, a supporter of the Pakistan People’s Party.

Tempers ran high when election officials at the station said they could not find a list containing the names of 324 voters. “It’s very concerning to me, because it’s our right to cast our vote. We are not servants; we are voters,” said Salehain Quereshi, a local council member and People’s Party supporter who said election officials refused to record his complaints.

Confusion over the missing voter rolls also incensed some of Musharraf’s backers at the station. Khanja Muhammad Khursid Alam shook his head in disgust as he watched an election worker struggle to find another voter’s name.

“They are untrained people. They don’t know how to work in polling stations. People come out and want to vote,” said Alam, a polling representative and member of Musharraf’s party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Q.

Official election results are expected to be tallied and released before the end of the week.

Rondeaux reported from Islamabad. Special correspondents Imtiaz Ali in Peshawar and Shahzad Khurram in Islamabad contributed to this report.

POST-ELECTION TASK

Filed under: ELECTIONS - 2008 — civilsocietypakistan @ 9:49 pm
Tags: , ,

DAWN

FEBRUARY 19, 2008

EDITORIAL

Election leaves Musharraf reeling

Filed under: ELECTIONS - 2008 — civilsocietypakistan @ 9:47 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

Tuesday, 19 February 2008, 07:26 GMT

   
 

By M Ilyas Khan
BBC News, Karachi


Nawaz Sharif

Mr Sharif’s party has done surprisingly well in the elections

The results in so far from Pakistan’s elections suggest that all of President Pervez Musharraf’s plans are being thrown into disarray.

It seems like Mr Musharraf’s chief political ally, the Pakistan Muslim League – Quaid-e-Azam (PML-Q), has been routed.

The president must also be worrying about the rather unexpected rise of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N party, which he ousted from power in a military coup in 1999.

The PML-N and the Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP) led by Benazir Bhutto until her assassination in December are the big winners so far.

Bad news

The PML-Q has fared exceptionally poorly, coming well behind the two opposition parties.

The PML-N and PPP have been talking to each other in the run-up to the elections, and could possibly join forces in a strong coalition government.

This would not augur well for Mr Musharraf.

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf

The results are bound to worry President Musharraf

The PML-N has been voicing a hawkish agenda against Mr Musharraf’s decisions to sack the country’s top judiciary and impose emergency rule last November.

There is also a possibility of such a coalition mobilising enough parliamentary support to impeach Mr Musharraf, or strip him of his powers to sack the government.

His best bet would be to try to prevent the two parties from joining forces in the future government.

Given the choice, his preference would be to team up with the PPP, which has appeared to be less harshly critical of his policies, to lead a coalition excluding the PML-N.

That would mean providing the PPP with a coalition partner having enough parliamentary strength to form a government.

‘Referendum’?

The problem is, that according to the results so far, the PML-Q does not seem to be shaping up for such a role.

Mr Musharraf’s other ally, the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM), has predictably swept the election in the country’s largest city, Karachi.

But the party is a regional group with limited support and cannot replace the wider clout wielded by PML-Q when it was in power.

Many analysts tend to interpret the results as a “referendum” against Mr Musharraf’s policies.

MQM supporters celebrate in Karachi

MQM has swept the election in Karachi

Not only has the PML-Q been routed, but the religious grouping, the MMA, has also been almost swept clean from its stronghold in the country’s western frontier region.

The North West Frontier Province (NWFP), where the MMA won across-the-board in 2002, appears to have gone “back to its roots”, as one analyst puts it.

A secular nationalist group, the ANP, appears set to emerge as the largest party in NWFP, closely followed by the PPP.

The PPP has also registered a considerable presence in the south-western Balochistan province, where the mandate appears to be largely splintered, indicating a weak coalition government.

The province has been marred by a low-intensity armed nationalist insurgency for several years, and most local nationalist groups have boycotted the elections.

In Sindh, the PPP is sweeping the rural areas, which account for more than 60% of the total population of the province.

Largely fair

In Punjab, the PPP is emerging as a strong runner-up behind PML-N.

Although there are some credible allegations of election-day rigging, mostly in Sindh, analysts believe the election exercise has been largely fair.

They say this was made possible due to close scrutiny by the international community, the local media, and the government’s fears that rigging may lead to popular uprising.

But a low voter turnout due to fear of violence and, in some cases intimidation, has prevented the results from being even worse as far as Mr Musharraf is concerned.

A higher turnout would have resulted in a near clean sweep against the president and his policies.

Meanwhile, a month-long delay in the elections is seen by analysts as having dented the support of the PPP which, they say, was set to attract a larger vote and a higher turnout had the elections taken place as scheduled on 8 January.

The government postponed the elections when Ms Bhutto was assassinated on 27 December.

All the opposition parties, including the PPP, had resisted the postponement.

Are Musharraf’s days numbered? HE IS A BAD LOSER AND A BULLY

Filed under: ELECTIONS - 2008 — civilsocietypakistan @ 9:39 pm
Tags: , , ,

Tuesday, 19 February 2008, 16:54 GMT

   

By Chris Morris
BBC News, Islamabad


President Musharraf

Mr Musharraf is now striking a conciliatory tone

He’d railed against the opinion polls. He’d accused the media of bias. But there’s not much President Musharraf can do about the voice of the people.

Pakistan’s voters have inflicted a heavy defeat on him and his supporters in parliament. It could even threaten his political survival.

Why? Because Pakistanis have voted fairly clearly for change. The next government will have to be a coalition, but it will have a strong democratic mandate.

And it will have to decide how it chooses to work with a president who’s never had much time for politicians with broad popular support.

The two main opposition parties – the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) (PML-N) – will have a dominant presence in the next parliament. Together they could form a stable coalition, but political bargaining is only just beginning.

‘Dictatorship’

There’s no doubt that the PML(N) – led by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif – is gunning for President Musharraf. It has made that very clear throughout this election campaign.

“Musharraf said he would quit when people tell him, and people have now given their verdict,” said Mr Sharif in his first public statement after the results emerged.

He called upon opposition parties to unite “to rid the country of dictatorship”.

But the PPP has been less explicit. Its co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari has been careful to keep his options open.

The party is still convinced that vote-rigging cost it many seats in this election, but it hasn’t yet ruled out working with anyone, including the president.

PML[N] supporters celebrate the election result

Many would be glad to see the back of the president

“Our whole attempt here is to be in government so we can change the system,” said Sherry Rehman, the central information secretary of the PPP.

“And you have to slowly and transitionally change the system from within.”

And what about President Musharraf himself? What is his best strategy for dealing with the opposition?

It could be divide and conquer. But in what felt like an appeal to the opposition to give him another chance, he too has appealed for reconciliation.

“We need a stable and democratic political environment in this country,” he said in an election night appearance on state-run TV. “That’s why I’ve called this the mother of all elections.”

“All the political parties and leaders should realise that in Pakistan they should not have a confrontational approach.”

‘Suffered enormously’

But the president is no longer arguing from a position of strength. This election has shown how far his popularity has fallen during the political turmoil of the past year.

Now the man who has enjoyed the support of western countries for the best part of a decade looks weaker than ever. Many analysts believe his days are numbered.

But if any lasting benefit is to emerge from this election, all Pakistan’s politicians will have to prove that they have learnt from the mistakes of the past.

“The country has suffered enormously,” said Tariq Fatemi, a former ambassador and political analyst. “The kind of polarisation that you see in Pakistan today is unprecedented.”

PPP leader and widower of Benazir Bhutto, Asif Ali Zardari (13.02.08)

Mr Zardari’s party is playing its cards carefully

“In two of the four provinces there is virtual state of insurgency. There is alienation, anger and outrage. Unless the two sides rise to the occasion, the country could be facing very choppy waters.”

So big questions remain.

Will a new government try to free senior judges who are still under house arrest and will it begin to heal domestic political wounds?

Will it be able to focus on the challenge from pro-Taleban militancy which has threatened the stability of this country and spread concern around the world?

In the short term, much depends on the approach of the PPP, which looks set to be the biggest party in parliament.

But it is still reeling from the assassination of Benazir Bhutto in December. There is no-one of her stature left in the current party leadership.

Whatever government eventually emerges from the horse-trading, it will face tremendous challenges.

Rising instability, highlighted by a spate of suicide bombings and the Islamist insurgency near the Afghan border, has meant plenty of international attention has been focussed on this election.

Now, many people will now be looking to the victors to give the country a fresh start.

Bhutto party in coalition offer

Filed under: ELECTIONS - 2008 — civilsocietypakistan @ 9:36 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

Tuesday, 19 February 2008, 19:19 GMT

   

PPP supporters

Supporters of Ms Bhutto’s party have been celebrating in the streets

The party of Pakistan’s late former PM Benazir Bhutto – the biggest winner in Monday’s election – says it is ready to form a coalition with the PML-N party. A union of Ms Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) with the PML-N of another former PM, Nawaz Sharif, would have more than half parliament’s seats.

The main party backing President Pervez Musharraf suffered heavy defeats.

The president’s position has never looked more precarious, the BBC’s Chris Morris in Islamabad says.

If a new governing coalition manages to muster a two-thirds majority in parliament, it could call for Mr Musharraf to be impeached.

Mr Musharraf was re-elected to the presidency last October, in a vote boycotted by the opposition as unconstitutional.

NATIONAL RESULTS SO FAR
PPP (Bhutto’s party) : 87
PML-N (Nawaz Sharif): 66
PML-Q: (pro-Musharraf) 38
MQM (Sindh-based): 19
ANP (Secular Pashtuns): 10
Others: 38
Source: Geo TV

He has been a major US ally in the “war on terror” but his popularity has waned at home amid accusations of authoritarianism and incompetence.

The US State Department described Monday’s election as a “step toward the full restoration of democracy”.

‘End of dictatorship’

At a press conference on Tuesday, Ms Bhutto’s widower and the PPP leader, Asif Ali Zardari, said his party would “form a government of national consensus which will take along every democratic force”.

“For now, the decision of the party is that we are not interested in any of those people who are part and parcel of the last government,” he said, seemingly ruling out any coalition with the Pakistan Muslim League’s pro-Musharraf wing, the PML-Q.

The PPP has won 87 seats so far, according to the website of private TV network, Geo.

PPP leader Asif Ali Zardari
PPP leader Asif Ali Zardari invited Mr Sharif to join a coalition

The PML-N, or Pakistani Muslim League-Nawaz, is in second place with 66 seats so far.

Mr Sharif said earlier on Tuesday that he was prepared to discuss joining a coalition with Mr Zardari’s party in order “to rid Pakistan of dictatorship forever”.

The two parties so far have a combined total of 153 seats in the 272-seat parliament.

President Pervez Musharraf main parliamentary ally, the PML-Q, has already admitted defeat.

The party has come a distant third, with 38 seats so far.

PML-Q chairman, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, told Associated Press Television News his party accepted the results “with an open heart” and was prepared to “sit on opposition benches”.

Next Page »

Blog at WordPress.com.