Bhutto's PPP (Pakistan People's Party) Headed Towards Big Victory
Can Musharraf survive? The PPP vows to remove him.
By Zeeshan Haider
ISLAMABAD, Feb 19 (Reuters)- Early Pakistani election results show supporters of President Pervez Musharraf struggling, television stations reported on Tuesday.
Monday's election was relatively peaceful after a bloody campaign that will be remembered for the assassination of former prime minister and opposition leader Benazir Bhutto in a suicide attack on Dec. 27.
Overall trends were unlikely to become clear until later on Tuesday but small groups of opposition supporters celebrated in the streets of Lahore and Rawalpindi.
In a major blow for the Pakistan Muslim League (PML) which backs Musharraf, its president, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, a former prime minister, was defeated in his Punjab province constituency by a rival from Bhutto's party, television networks said, citing unofficial Election Commission tallies.
Several other senior PML members appeared to be losing their seats, television stations reported.
Musharraf said on Monday he would work with whoever won to build democracy in a country that has alternated between civilian and army rule throughout its 60-year history.
"This is the voice of the nation," Musharraf said on state-run Pakistan Television lat on Monday. "Everyone should accept the results, that includes myself."
A hostile parliament could try to remove Musharraf, who came to power as a general in a 1999 coup and emerged as a crucial Muslim ally of the United States in a "war on terror" that most Pakistanis think is Washington's, not theirs.
The death of Bhutto, the most progressive, Western-friendly politician in a Muslim nation rife with anti-American sentiment, raised concern about the stability of the nuclear-armed country.
Musharraf's popularity has plunged over the past year because of measures including his purge of the judiciary and the imposition of six weeks of emergency rule.
Many Pakistanis also blame him and his PML-led government for rising prices, food shortages and power cuts.
"If they lose, then I feel I'm winning," said Imtiaz Ali, a lawyer in the northwestern city of Peshawar, as he watched early results on television.
"I'm optimistic because the way people have voted shows that they want democracy, not dictatorship."
FEAR AND SYMPATHY
Fear kept many Pakistanis away from the polls, despite 80,000 troops backing up police.
A suicide bomb campaign waged by al Qaeda-inspired militants has added to a mounting sense of insecurity. More than 450 people have been killed in militant-related violence this year.
Election violence on Monday, though bad in places, was not as severe as many had feared.
At least 20 people were killed in poll-related violence, including 15 activists from Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party (PPP), her widower Asif Ali Zardari said.
A Pakistani poll watchdog group said there had been a few incidents of polling irregularities. Main opposition parties which had earlier warned of rigging by Musharraf's allies had no immediate comment on the fairness of the vote.
Sarwar Bari of the Free and Fair Election Network, an umbrella organisation of 40 non-governmental organisations, said initial estimates suggested a turnout of nearly 42 percent, almost matching that of the 2002 election.
A sympathy vote is expected to help Bhutto's PPP become the largest party in the 342-seat National Assembly, but most analysts doubt it can win a majority.
Analysts say Musharraf wants a coalition between the PPP and the PML.
An alliance between the PPP and the other main opposition party, led by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif who Musharraf ousted in 1999, is what Musharraf dreads, as together they could force him out through impeachment or other ways.
By quitting as army chief in November to extend his presidency until 2012, Musharraf weakened ties with his greatest source of support.
Western allies hope for a stable Pakistan focused on fighting militancy, as do investors in a stock market that rose 40 percent last year but has shed about 3 percent since Bhutto's death.
Source- The Guardian
In a related development... a top Pakistani official was overheard saying that the vote would be rigged.
I think Musharraf will have a hard time getting away with stealing this election. Polls have showed Bhutto's Party way ahead. Followed by Nawaz Sharif's supporters... with Musharraf backers coming in at a distant third place.