Islamabad: Pakistani opposition parties mulled the formation of a coalition government Wednesday, after storming to victory in elections and leaving President Pervez Musharraf’s position in jeopardy.
Nawaz Sharif, the man Musharraf removed from power in a coup in 1999, and the widower of assassinated former premier Benazir Bhutto both said they wanted to work with other opposition groups after Monday’s vote.
Sharif urged key US ally Musharraf to quit, while Asif Ali Zardari said he would not work with anyone associated with the party that backed Musharraf in the last parliament, which observers said suffered a stinging defeat.
Despite the intensifying pressure on Musharraf, he told an American newspaper that he has no plans to quit.
Asked by the Wall Street Journal whether he would resign or retire, Musharraf said: “No, not yet. We have to move forward in a way that we bring about a stable democratic government to Pakistan,” according to the interview published on the newspaper’s website.
Musharraf was also quoted as saying he would like to function “with any party and any coalition because that is in the interest of Pakistan.”
Sharif and Zardari were set to meet in Islamabad on Thursday. Both were also due to hold meetings of their central executive committees on Wednesday, with contacts between the sides expected.
Election commission secretary Kanwar Dilshad said the official results of the vote were set to be announced on Wednesday after the final handful of constituencies were tallied.
With votes counted in 258 out of 272 constituencies, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Sharif’s party had a combined total of 153 seats, the commission said. The former ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Q and its allies together had 58.
Results also showed a near total defeat for hardline Islamic parties that under the previous administration ruled Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province bordering Afghanistan.
A European Union team which monitored the vote was set to deliver its report on Wednesday, although the opposition allegations of rigging that marked the run-up to the polls have been absent since.
The White House said the elections were “largely fair.”
“I think that what we can say is that they seem to have been largely fair and that people were able to express themselves, and that they can have confidence in their vote,” spokeswoman Dana Perino said.
The State Department said Pakistan had taken a “step towards the full restoration of democracy.”
UN chief Ban Ki-moon said he was encouraged by the “commitment of all parties concerned to respect the democratic process,” his press office said.
A hostile parliament threatens the political survival of Musharraf, who could theoretically face impeachment if the opposition gets a two-thirds majority.
Analysts said Musharraf’s most likely strategy would be to woo Bhutto’s party and split it from Sharif’s by preying on the one-time rift between the slain ex-prime minister and Sharif.
The death of Bhutto in a December 27 gun and suicide attack, along with other suicide bombings, overshadowed the campaign and forced the election’s delay until Monday.
Musharraf has already been weakened in recent months after shedding his dual role as chief of the army, by a bruising stand-off with the country’s deposed chief justice and deepening unpopularity.
To bolster his position he has relied on his backing from the United States, and financial aid of $10 billion, mainly military, since he joined the Washington-led “war on terror” in 2001.
A fresh challenge could come if Sharif pursues his pledge to restore chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, who was sacked by Musharraf under a state of emergency in November and remains under house arrest.
Musharraf ousted Chaudhry when it looked like Pakistan’s Supreme Court was set to deprive him of a second term as president, but that move could come back to haunt him if the judge gets his job back.
Several dozen protesters chanting “Go Musharraf, go!” gathered on Tuesday night outside the chief justice’s house in Islamabad.