Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Defeat of a dictator
Leg up for democracy in Pakistan

THE people of Pakistan have sent out a clear message through the most keenly watched elections there. They strongly yearn for democracy. They have given a crushing defeat to the political forces associated with President Pervez Musharraf. The PML (Q), derisively called the King’s Party, which led the ruling coalition till the poll process began, has been mauled badly by slain leader Benazir Bhutto’s PPP and Mr Nawaz Sharif’s PML (N). The Musharraf-backed PML (Q) has been reduced to an insignificant third position with most of its stalwarts like party chief and former prime minister Chaudhary Shujaat Hussain suffering humiliating reverses. Musharraf’s religious ally Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s Jamiatul Ulema-e-Islam has been routed in the NWFP, once considered its bastion. The Muhajir Qaumi Movement (MQM) of migrants from India, yet another group close to the former General, has more or less retained its base in Sindh, but could not prevent the PPP from emerging as the single largest party able to form a government independently in the province.

The PPP is the leading party at the federal level, too, but could not take full advantage of the sympathy wave sweeping every province of Pakistan after Benazir’s assassination. It can form a government in Islamabad only as part of a coalition. Ideally, the PPP and the PML (N) should come together to share power. Both fought the elections on an anti-Musharraf plank. But they seem to have different agendas and varying perceptions.

The two major parties have serious differences over the restoration of the judiciary as it existed before the dismissal of Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry in the wake of the imposition of the emergency. The PML (N) stands for the status quo ante to ensure the removal of President Musharraf, but this may not find favour with PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari. The latter has been hinting at reaching an understanding with President Musharraf, perhaps under Western (read US) pressure. This will, no doubt, amount to going against the wishes of the people of Pakistan, but who bothers about the voters’ aspirations once the poll results are out? It is time for realpolitik in Islamabad.

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