February 19, 2008

Musharraf Wins By Losing, Islamists Just Lose Big

The Pakistanis have rejected both Pervez Musharraf and the Islamists in their national and provincial elections yesterday, preliminary results show. Supporters of slain national leader Benazir Bhutto and returned exile Nawaz Sharif will dominate the national and provincial assemblies, and Musharraf will have to deal with a hostile but moderate Parliament:

After being sidelined for more than eight years by army intervention, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) seemed headed for a shock comeback as initial partial results of Monday’s elections put a question mark over President Pervez Musharraf’s political future.

The previously ruling Pakistan Muslim League (PML) of the president’s loyalists and some of its allies appeared to have suffered a humiliating drubbing in the low-turnout elections for the National Assembly and four provincial assemblies despite a perceived support they got from local governments and other state agencies in what the opposition parties called pre-poll rigging.

The PML-N had won 29 and the PPP 27 National Assembly seats after, what were called unofficial results for 87 constituencies, were known well past midnight, until when the PML-Q had won only nine and NWFP-based Awami National Party seven while nine had gone to independents, mainly in the party-less Federally Administered Tribal Areas.

The MMA, which ruled the NWFP for five years, appeared in danger of being wiped out from both the National Assembly and the Frontier legislature.

But the one-time arch-rivals turned allies PPP and PML-N were leading in most of the other constituencies of the lower house as well as of the provincial assemblies of the Punjab and Sindh while the remaining two provinces of the North-West Frontier and Balochistan appeared destined to get more mixed coalitions.

Between them, Bhutto's PPP and Sharif's PML-N have taken 153 seats, to PML-Q's paltry 38, according to Dawn's projections. Neither party has a majority, but undoubtedly they will form a coalition to dominate the assembly and to form a powerful counterweight to Musharraf. The Islamists have all but disappeared from the parliament at this point, with MMA winning only three seats after calling for a boycott earlier.

Musharraf, who got his face slapped by this result, appears secure in the presidency. Even with PPP and PML-N forming a coalition, they lack the two-thirds majority in the assembly required to impeach Musharraf. They have enough to thwart his policy agenda if necessary, but Musharraf may prove more compliant in the future. Both parties want to fight the terrorists, the PPP more than the PML-N, and they may want Musharraf to continue to be the leader of that fight.

The Islamists lost their mandate in the provinces as well. ANP, the center-left Pashtun party, will take the most seats in the Frontier province, followed by PPP. MMA only took 8 seats in that assembly, falling from power and obviously losing popularity in the region for its insistence on Islamist law. Musharraf's PML-Q won a plurality in Balochistan and will likely form a coalition with PPP to lock out MMA.

Even though he took a beating at the polls, Musharraf may come out a winner from yesterday's results. He apparently conducted the election honestly, and has acknowledged the results. He managed to marginalize the Islamists and has legitimized the moderates as the driving force in Pakistani politics. The PML-Q will not win many elections after Musharraf's dictatorship -- everyone knew that before the election -- but he allowed them anyway and seems ready to deal with the result. It's a pretty good day for democracy in Pakistan, and Musharraf deserves at least a little of the credit.


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