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End of the Musharraf era?

by Meike Scholz

The opposition parties won the general election in Pakistan on 18 February. The party of President Pervez Musharraf, who was not a candidate himself, only came in a distant third. His Muslim League (PML-Q) had to admit to not only losing the elections, but several constituencies as well. As D+C went to print, it yet remained to be seen what impact the elections would have on Musharraf’s tenure.

Undisputed winners were the opposition parties, first of all the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), the party of Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated in late December. However, the Muslim League of Nawaz Sharif (PML-N) also scored more votes than predicted. Both parties have started talks, and may yet set in motion proceedings to impeach President Musharraf. Though supporters of both parties exulted in the election triumph, it was obvious that PPP and PML-N are at loggerheads over many important issues. Observers doubted they have enough in common to form a coalition government.

Before the election, bombs had caused insecurity. Such attacks and other violence killed more than 400 persons. Clashes occurred on the election day, killing another 20. At 40 %, voter turnout was as low as for the past election.

Nonetheless, European observers expressed relief. By Pakistani standards, the level of violence was low, said Michael Gahler, the German head of the EU delegation. Nonetheless, his team pointed to flaws, in particular in terms of women’s right to vote. Moreover, voter registers were incomplete, and apparently 20 million more ballot papers were printed than there are people entitled to vote. Observers also said they found it difficult to monitor mobile polling stations that were set up on short notice. Sebastian Edarthy, a member of Germany’s Bundestag and one of the EU observers, declared on election day that the question was not whether, but rather to what extent the election result was manipulated. (sz)