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The view from Pakistan

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20 February 2008 08:24

Guest blogger: Whit Mason is in Pakistan to observe the elections. He is a consultant on international affairs currently co-writing a new Lowy Institute Paper exploring the relationship between Islamism and democracy.

Headlines in Pakistan’s leading papers this morning proclaim that 'All the King's men, gone!' and 'Musharraf allies face voters' wrath'. Many will be impressed and surprised that Musharraf’s party didn't tilt the results in their own favor (beyond what many observers have described as pre-poll rigging).
 
Though votes are still being counted, it appears that Nawaz Sharif's party swept Punjab. The PPP won Sindh, as expected. Sharif's PML-N and the PPP are now neck-and-neck. Neither will have a majority and no one believes they'll long survive in a coalition together. Sharif has pushed for restoring deposed judges but has expressed less enthusiasm for crushing Islamist militants who have taken over large swathes of territory along Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan. Before she was killed, PPP leader Benazir Bhutto vowed to spare no effort to defeat the militants but was equivocal about the judiciary.

Turnout was probably only around 30%, giving whomever forms the government a weak mandate.

A PPP leader the other night expressed dread at the prospect of his party winning big, because without an unattainable two thirds majority they can't take away Musharraf's authority to dissolve government, nor could any government defeat the insurgency any time soon or rise to the country's crushing economic challenges. So though many of his stalwarts lost their seats, Musharraf may not be so displeased with the result.

The secular Awami National Party (ANP) won in North West Frontier Province (NWFP), taking votes from the MMA, a coalition of religious parties that accomplished nothing since forming the provincial government in 2002. Its secularism has cost it votes in the past, but the ANP is highly regarded by many western diplomats and their ascendancy in NWFP’s regional assembly, perhaps in coalition with the PPP and independents, looks like good news. 
 
There were reportedly 24 dead and 200 injured on polling day, a level of violence that Musharraf's spokesman characterizes as 'normal'.

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