Pakistan Opposition Ahead in Unofficial Results

A long-awaited parliamentary election took place Monday in Pakistan. Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party was expected to do well. Early unofficial results confirmed that expectation, with the opposition making a strong showing. President Musharraf vowed the election would be free and fair.

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

The ballots are being counted in Pakistan after today's parliamentary elections. The vote finally went ahead after being delayed by the death of Benazir Bhutto late last year and after months of political violence. President Pervez Musharraf is presenting the elections as a key step in the transition to democracy. His critics are skeptical.

NPR's Philip Reeves spent some time with poll workers in the city of Lahore, and he has this report on today's events.

Unidentified Man: (Speaking in foreign language)

PHILIP REEVES: They sealed up the ballot boxes with an air of relief. The large-scale violence many feared did not happen. When the day began, the mood on the streets of Lahore was nervous. As it ended, the atmosphere was festive with opposition party workers celebrating victory even before the results were out.

(Soundbite of people cheering)

REEVES: Musharraf cast his vote in Rawalpindi. This is the city where Benazir Bhutto was assassinated. Afterwards, he called for unity.

President PERVEZ MUSHARRAF (Pakistan): As far as I'm concerned, I strongly believe that this politics of confrontation must give way to politics of reconciliation. Not in anyone's personal interest, in the interest of Pakistan. We must come out of this confrontationist approach and get into a conciliatory mode.

REEVES: Fears of violence kept many away. Only about one-third of the voters on the list of this polling station cast ballots. This man, Wush Tabah(ph), says none of the women in his household would vote.

Mr. WUSH TABAH (Pakistani Voter): (Through translator) Obviously because of the security reasons, it's not good for women to come out in the streets like this. It's better if they stay indoor.

REEVES: But Shimona Ashad(ph), a mother of eight, turned up. She felt it was important to register her opposition to Musharraf by voting for his opponents.

Ms. SHIMONA ASHAD (Pakistani Voter): (Through translator) We have not been getting enough water. There's shortage of gas. If you have children, and if you have shortage of gas, how can you feed them?

REEVES: In Lahore, Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party made a big effort to get the vote out. On this street, at least 23 wheeled rickshaws covered in party flags wait to give supporters a lift to the polling stations.

Mr. MUHHAMAD ASHAR(ph) (Bhutto Supporter): (Speaking in foreign language)

REEVES: Benazir Bhutto's name lives on, says a man called Muhammad Ashar. He's sure the Pakistan People's Party, the PPP, now led by Bhutto's husband Asif Ali Zardari, will emerge the winner as the pre-election polls predicted.

Attention is now focused on what happens next. If the party that support Musharraf wins, there'll be allegations of rigging and probably violence. PPP officials are already making accusations of vote tampering by the government. The key issue is whether Pakistan's new parliament will be in a position to challenge President Musharraf, and even push for his removal, or will its new leaders decide to cooperate with him, or will parliament be hung allowing Musharraf to divide and rule. It's too soon to say.

Philip Reeves, NPR News, Lahore.

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U.S. Could Lose 'Indispensable Ally' in Pakistan

Pres. Pervez Musharraf i i

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf gives a speech at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) in central London, Jan. 25, 2008. AP Photo/Alessia Pierdomenico, Pool hide caption

itoggle caption AP Photo/Alessia Pierdomenico, Pool
Pres. Pervez Musharraf

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf gives a speech at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) in central London, Jan. 25, 2008.

AP Photo/Alessia Pierdomenico, Pool

Pakistan is preparing for parliamentary elections on Monday that could have far-reaching implications for the United States and the struggle against terrorist groups.

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf won't face the voters directly — his re-election was confirmed in November, after a vote that his opponents say was blatantly rigged by the government.

Instead, Musharraf may find himself saddled with a parliament that could challenge his decade-long rule or even try to impeach him.

The Bush administration has hailed Musharraf as a partner ever since he agreed to support the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan. As recently as November, Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte called Musharraf an "indispensable ally" in the struggle against terrorism.

At the same time, though, President Bush urged Musharraf, who was then Pakistan's Army chief, to quit the military and hold parliamentary elections. Those elections were set for early January, but postponed amid the turbulence that swept the country after the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in December.

One question now is whether Monday's election will be seen as legitimate, amid allegations that the government has been working to rig the outcome by limiting who can run, who can vote and who will supervise the vote count once the balloting is over.

"The U.S. made a big mistake by not insisting that Musharraf and his government accept a massive deployment of international observers," says Zia Mian, at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. Mian says the Bush administration was unwilling to push Musharraf on the issue because it fears losing him as an ally.

Bruce Riedel, a senior fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy, says it's too late for the U.S. to rely on Musharraf alone. "The question is, how do we position ourselves, not toward one man, but toward the whole country?" Riedel says. "The problem we face is that the Pakistani people feel that the U.S. is tied to a military dictator who has lost their support."

A new report from the International Republican Institute bears that out: An IRI poll conducted in late January found that more than 80 percent of Pakistanis feel Musharraf's government is headed in the wrong direction; only 9 percent believe the government should cooperate with the U.S. in the war on terrorism.

A recent editorial in the Los Angeles Times suggested that the U.S. is signaling to Musharraf that it will accept something less than free and fair elections in Pakistan. Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher told a congressional panel earlier this month that what the U.S. wants are "credible" elections; the Times editorial interpreted that as "just good enough to enable some degree of post-election power-sharing."

At this point, there will be relatively little independent monitoring of the elections. Lisa Gates, a spokeswoman for the International Republican Institute, said her group had decided not to send a monitoring mission, "because security just isn't good enough. They wouldn't have the freedom of movement they'd need to do an effective job."

Senators Joseph Biden (D-DE), John Kerry (D-MA) and Chuck Hagel (R-NE) planned to observe the election and meet with leaders of the government and the opposition. Biden said before leaving that if Pakistani moderates don't get a voice in the system, "there's a real danger they will make common cause with extremists."

Biden is calling for an approach that would triple U.S. non-military aid to Pakistan to $1.5 billion a year for at least 10 years as a way to strengthen civil power in the country. He would provide an additional billion-dollar bonus in non-military aid to the country in the first year after democracy is restored there.

Biden has also argued for a U.S. policy that's aimed at the entire country and not just at an individual personality such as Musharraf.

The Woodrow Wilson Center's Zia Mian says of Musharraf, "There never were any indispensable men."

He says the struggle against extremists in Pakistan has been tainted in the public mind because it is associated with Musharraf and his alliance with the U.S. In Mian's words, "Your indispensable man has become part of the problem."

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