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Voters deal Musharraf a huge blow

Voters deal Musharraf a huge blow
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First Published: Wed, Feb 20 2008. 01 42 AM IST

Voting for a change: Supporters of slain opposition leader Benazir Bhutto celebrate their victory in the elections in Karachi on Tuesday.
Voting for a change: Supporters of slain opposition leader Benazir Bhutto celebrate their victory in the elections in Karachi on Tuesday.
Updated: Wed, Feb 20 2008. 01 42 AM IST
Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf’s opponents called on the key US ally to resign on Tuesday after his backers conceded that voters dealt them a crushing defeat in the general elections.
Celebratory gunfire erupted in several cities as unofficial preliminary results on state television showed a big win for the parties of former premier Nawaz Sharif and slain political icon Benazir Bhutto.
“Musharraf has said he wo-uld quit when people tell him,” said two-time prime minister Nawaz Sharif, the man Musharraf ousted in a bloodless coup in 1999. “People have now given their verdict.”
Leading pro-democracy lawyer Aitzaz Ahsan , held under house arrest since Musharraf imposed a state of emergency in November, said the President should step down because he was the “most hated man in the country.”
Voting for a change: Supporters of slain opposition leader Benazir Bhutto celebrate their victory in the elections in Karachi on Tuesday.
Musharraf’s spokesperson bluntly rejected calls for the President to stand down and said the former general was willing to work with whoever forms a government. “They are way off in their demands,” spokesperson Major General Rashid Qureshi told AFP. “This is not the election for President,” he said. “President Musharraf is already elected for five years.”
Unofficial results showed a rout of the pro-Musharraf ruling party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Q (PML-Q), placing the President at risk of a hostile Parliament that, in theory, could seek his impeachment.
“We accept the verdict of the nation,” said Tariq Azeem, a spokesperson for the PML-Q, which backed Musharraf throughout the last Parliament. “We officially concede defeat.” Sharif said he wanted to work with other opposition parties in Parliament to “rid Pakistan of dictatorship forever.” He told reporters in Lahore that he had already spoken to Bhutto’s widower, Asif Ali Zardari, and would meet him on Thursday in Islamabad for further talks.
With votes counted in 258 constituencies, the PML-Q and its allies had taken a total of 58 seats. The party’s chief and several key members lost their seats in Pakistan’s national assembly. Even if the PML-Q won all the remaining seats not yet counted, they would not be able to attain a majority in Parliament, which has 272 elected and 70 unelected seats reserved for women and minorities. US Senator John Kerry, in Pakistan as part of a team to observe the elections, said the vote “meets the basic threshold of credibility and legitimacy.” The opposition had feared polls would be rigged.
State television said Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) had 87 seats, Sharif’s faction of the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) had 66 seats, with the PML-Q, smaller parties and independents taking the rest, according to preliminary unofficial results. AFP The death of Bhutto on 27 December in a suicide attack overshadowed the campaign and forced the election’s delay until Monday.
The vote “means the forces of democracy and the rule of law have won,” said Talat Masood, a former general who is now a political and defence analyst.
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First Published: Wed, Feb 20 2008. 01 42 AM IST