Wednesday, February 20, 2008

If only Musharraf paid heed to the goings-on in Kenya...

2008 continues to be the year of opposition parties. Will America follow suit?

ISLAMABAD - Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf's opponents won a big election victory yesterday as voters rejected his former ruling party, raising doubts whether the US ally who has ruled since 1999 can keep power.

Nawaz Shariff, the Prime Minister Musharraf overthrew in a coup and only allowed back from exile three months ago, urged Musharraf to accept that he was no longer wanted. "He would say 'when people would want, I will go.' Today, the people have said what they want," Shariff said after his party ran a close second in Monday's long-awaited polls.

A wave of sympathy helped the Pakistani People's Party of slain former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto emerge as the largest party in the 342 seat National Assembly. But it does not have a majority and will need to seek coalition partners. Bhutto's assassination in a suicide attack on December 27 heightened concern about the stability of the nuclear-armed Muslim state, where Al-Qaeda leaders have taken refuge. Musharraf, who emerged as a crucial US ally in a "war on terror" most Pakistanis think is Washington's, not theirs, has seen his popularity plummet in the last year as he reeled from one political crisis to another.

Groups of happy opposition supporters celebrated in the streets in cities across the country as results rolled out showing pro-Musharraf politicians losing; a scene reminiscent of the opening hours of the Kenyan election, which saw pro-Kibaki bigwigs, including Vice President Arthur Moody Awori, outrightly rejected by the electorate.

While Pakistan hoped for a new era, many remained unconvinced by the reappearance of politicians associated with corrupt, ineffective governments from the 1990s. "The promises that have been made by Nawaz Shariff and PPP should now be fulfilled and they should do something for the country and not for themselves," said Mohammed Arif, sitting in his pharmacy in Karachi.

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