Pakistan: A Country Votes – But Now What?
Pakistan has voted - but low turnouts, minor vote-rigging, and few female voters have colored an election that will direct a nation’s future.
Below is an article published by Carlotta Gall and Jane Perlez of the International Herald Tribune:
Pakistanis dealt a crushing defeat to President Pervez Musharraf in parliamentary elections Monday, in what government and opposition politicians said was a firm rejection of his policies since 2001 and those of his close ally, the
Almost all the leading figures in the Pakistan Muslim League-Q, the party that has governed for the last five years under Musharraf, lost their seats, including the leader of the party, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussein, the former speaker of parliament, Chaudhry Amir Hussein, and six ministers.
Though official results would not be announced until Tuesday [19 February 2008], early returns indicated that the vote would usher in a prime minister from one of the opposition parties, and opened the prospect of a parliament that would move to undo many of Musharraf's policies and that may even try to remove him.
The early edge went to the opposition Pakistan Peoples Party, which seemed to benefit from a strong wave of sympathy in reaction to the assassination of its leader, Benazir Bhutto, eight weeks ago, and may be in a position to form the next government.
The results were interpreted here as a repudiation of Musharraf as well as the Bush administration, which has staunchly backed Musharraf for eight years as its best bet in the campaign against the Islamic militants in Pakistan. American officials will have little choice now but to seek alternative allies from among the new political forces emerging from the vote.
Politicians and party workers from Musharraf's party said the vote was a protest against government policies and the rise in terrorism here, in particular against Musharraf's heavy handed way of dealing with militancy and his use of the army against tribesmen in the border areas and against militants in a siege at the Red Mosque here in the capital last summer  that left more than 100 dead.
Others said Musharraf's dismissal last year  of the Supreme Court chief justice, Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, who remains under house arrest, was deeply unpopular with the voters.
Musharraf, who stepped down as army chief last November  after being re-elected to another five-year term, has seen his standing plummet as the country has faced a determined insurgency by the Taliban and Al Qaeda, and a deteriorating economy.
By association, his party suffered badly. The two main opposition parties, the Pakistan Peoples Party and the Pakistan Muslim League-N of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif surged into the gap.
By early Monday [18 February 2008] night, crowds of Sharif supporters had already begun celebrating as they paraded through the streets of
"The tiger has come!" shouted one man on a motorbike making a victory sign. "Long live Nawaz!"
From unofficial results the private news channel, Aaj Television, forecast that the Pakistan Peoples Party would win 110 seats in the 272-seat national assembly, with Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League-N taking 100 seats.
Musharraf's party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Q, was crushed, holding on to just 20 to 30 seats. Early results released by the state news agency, the Associated Press of Pakistan, also showed the Pakistan Peoples Party to be leading in the number of seats in the national assembly.
The Election Commission of Pakistan declared the elections free and fair and said the polling passed relatively peacefully, despite some irregularities and scattered violence. Ten people were killed and 70 injured in violence around the country, including one candidate who was shot in
Fearful of violence and deterred by confusion at polling stations, voters did not turn out in large numbers. Yet fears from opposition parties that the government would attempt to rig the elections did not materialize, as the early losses showed.
Official results were not expected until Tuesday morning [19 February 2008], but all the parties were already coming to terms with the anti-Musharraf trend in the voting.
Nosheen Saeed, information secretary of the women's wing of Musharraf's party, conceded the early losses. "Some big guns are going to lose," she said.
At the headquarters of Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, the minister of railways and a close friend of the president, his supporters sat gloomily in chairs under an awning, listening to the cheers of their opponents. "Q is finished," said Tahir Khan, 21, one of the party workers, referring to the pro-Musharraf party.
The party workers said Ahmed, who was among the ministers who lost their seats, was popular but had suffered from the overwhelming protest vote against Musharraf and his governing faction.
The results opened a host of new challenges for the Bush administration, which has been criticized in Congress and by
With Musharraf as both president and head of the Pakistani military, a post he relinquished last November, the administration poured about $1 billion a year in military assistance into
After Musharraf stepped down from the army, the Bush administration still gave him unequivocal support. Last month [January 2007], Assistant Secretary of State for
Such fidelity to Musharraf often raised the hackles of Pakistanis, and the newspapers here were filled with editorials that expressed despair about
Many educated Pakistanis said they were irritated that the Bush administration chose to ignore Musharraf's dismissal in November  of the Supreme Court chief justice.
The big swing against the Pakistan Muslim League-Q party that supported Musharraf appeared to bear out the position of the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations committee, Sen. Joseph Biden, Jr, who has been a critic of the administration's
On his arrival Sunday [17 February 2008] to observe the elections, Biden said: "I don't buy into the argument that Musharraf is the only one. We have to have more than just a Musharraf policy."
As a starting point for a new policy, Biden said that the
The greatest blow for Musharraf came in the strong wave of support in
He returned in November last year  and although banned from running for parliament himself, has campaigned for his party on an openly anti-Musharraf agenda, calling for the president's resignation and for the reinstatement of the Chief Justice Chaudhry and other Supreme Court judges.
Underscoring the reversal for Musharraf was the downfall of the powerful Chaudhry family of
"They myth is broken, it was a huge wave against Musharraf," said Athar Minallah, a lawyer involved in the anti-Musharraf lawyers' movement. "Right across the board his party was defeated, in the urban and rural areas. The margins are so big they couldn't have rigged it even if they tried."
A few hours after the size of the defeat became clear, the government eased up on the restrictions against, Aitzaz Ahsan, leader of the lawyers' movement that has opposed the president.
Ahsan who has been under house arrest since last November  when Musharraf imposed emergency rule for six weeks, found the phones in house were suddenly reconnected.
"Musharraf should be preparing a C-130 for
Two politicians close to Musharraf have said in the last week [Week 8, 2008] that the president was well aware of the drift in the country against him and they suggested that he would not remain in office if the new government was in direct opposition to him. "He does not have the fire in the belly for another fight," said one member of his party. He added that Musharraf was building a house for himself in
Strategic Forecasting Inc. have released an English language podcast analysing the degree of “election engineering” in
The Guardian newspaper has also published a photo essay on the voting and subsequent counting in