Bhutto's party secures victory in Pakistani elections

Other News Materials 19 February 2008 13:18 (UTC +04:00)

(dpa) - The party of assassinated Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto emerged victorious Tuesday in crucial parliamentary elections that delivered a devastating defeat to embattled President Pervez Musharraf and his ruling party.

Unofficial results from 253 of the 272 National Assembly seats showed Bhutto's Pakistani People's Party (PPP) with 86 seats, followed by opposition leader Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) with 65, giving the duo nearly 60 percent of the vote.

The ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) was a distant third with 37 seats, and several of its top leaders also lost their individual races. An alliance of Muslim-based parties that backed Musharraf was also trounced at the polls, while small regional parties and independent candidates did better than expected.

Analysts said the results were part of a massive backlash against Musharraf, a recently retired Army general who seized power in a bloodless coup in 1999.

"This was an affront upon him, his friends, his allies," said Asad Durrani, a retired army general and analyst. "I can't think of very much that endeared him to people."

Results from Monday's national and provincial assembly elections were still coming in, mostly from Bhutto's native Sindh province, which the PPP is expected to sweep and further add onto its lead. Bhutto was killed in a gun and suicide-bomb attack on December 27 and the PPP appears to have capitalized on voter sympathy and anger with Musharraf's military-backed government.

But Sharif's PML-Nawaz also did much better than expected, and was the runaway leader in his home Punjab province, the most hotly-contested region and where the ruling PML-Q is also based.

The results indicated that Monday's elections were generally free and fair, as Musharraf had promised, amid persistent allegations of planned vote-rigging by his government. Feared widespread election violence including suicide bombings also never materialized, although at least 19 people died in clashes between pro-government and opposition supporters.

Opposition party workers, sensing an historic victory for democratic forces after more than eight years of military rule under Musharraf, started celebrations overnight in Sindh and Punjab, dancing in the street, firing guns into the air, and distributing sweets, a traditional practice.

PPP spokesman Farhatullah Babar said the results showed the public had enough of Musharraf's moves to change the constitution to remain in power.

"The public has always been demanding change," he said. "Most of the people of Pakistan wanted Musharraf to quit."

Analysts characterized Monday's polls as crucial for the survival of the embattled president, a key US ally in the region and partner in the the Bush administration's global war on terrorism.

However, presidential spokesman Rashid Qureshi said Musharraf had no intention of stepping down and was "happy the Pakistani people have participated in the cleanest, neatest, safest elections in the history of Pakistan." The country has a long history of election fraud.

Musharraf was at the center of a year-long political crisis that escalated in November 2007 after he declared a state of emergency, suspended the constitution and sacked the Supreme Court judges whom he feared were going to overturn his controversial presidential re-election the previous month.

Nuclear-armed Pakistan has also been rocked by dozens of suicide bombings from pro-Taliban and al-Qaeda militants operating in the country's lawless tribal areas near Afghanistan, who were also blamed for killing Bhutto.

Most senior PML-Q candidates, including the party leader Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, prime ministerial candidate Chaudhry Parvaiz Elahi, and several members of the Musharraf government cabinet all lost in their respective constituencies.