Opposition parties’ victory could threaten the rule of US-ally President Musharraf.
|Pakistan’s newspapers heralded the
defeat of Musharraf’s allies [AFP]
Pakistan’s ruling party has conceded electoral defeat, as opposition parties won enough seats to form a new government that could threaten the rule of Pervez Musharraf, the Pakistani president, according to partial results.
Tariq Azeem, spokesman for the Pakistan Muslim League-Q (PML-Q), which backed Musharraf announced on Tuesday that the party would “accept the verdict of the nation”.
“We officially concede defeat,” he said.
Several of the leading PML-Q candidates, including its chief, lost their seats in Monday’s election and unofficial results, announced on state television, showed they could not attain a parliamentary majority.
“This is the basic spirit of democracy,” Azeem said. “We believe the elections were free and fair and everybody must accept the decision for the betterment of Pakistan.”
Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, head of the PML-Q, said that his party accepted the result and “will sit on opposition benches”.
With counting in from 257 constituencies, PML-Q and its allies had taken a total of 57 seats.
The Pakistan People’s party (PPP), the party of Benazir Bhutto, the opposition leader assassinated in December last year, had 85 seats, according to preliminary results.
The Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) faction of Nawaz Sharif, a former prime minister, had 65 seats, with PML-Q, smaller parties and independents taking the rest, state television said.
Full results were not expected until late on Tuesday or early Wednesday.
Musharraf has said he would work with the new government regardless of which party wins.
|Pakistan vote: At a glance|
– Pakistan has 81 million registered voters, out of a population of 160 million people.
– Another 60 seats are reserved for women and 10 for religious minorities.
– More than 60,000 polling stations were set up across the country.
– Key issues include restoration of a full civilian government, reinstatement of sacked judges, rising militancy, economy and high unemployment.
“I will give them full co-operation as president, whatever is my role,” he said after voting in Rawalpindi.
But with the support of smaller groups and independent candidates, the opposition could now gain the two-thirds majority in parliament needed to impeach the president.
Musharraf’s popularity suffered last year following his decision to impose emergency rule, purge the judiciary, jail political opponents and curtail press freedoms.
Musharraf has also supported the US in its so-called “war on terror”, sanctioning Pakistani military operations against al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters in northwest Pakistan where it borders Afghanistan.
By contrast, Sharif and others have called for dialogue with the fighters and have criticised military operations in the area because of their impact on civilians.
Opposition parties had feared the polls would be rigged, but analysts from Washington-based Strategic Forecasting said the elections “seem to have been decently free and fair”.
Sarwar Bari, of the non-profit Free and Fair Elections Network, said his group’s 20,000 election observers reported a voter turnout of about 35 per cent, the same as in the 1997 election and the lowest in Pakistan’s history.
Ayaz Baig, the election commissioner in Punjab, estimated the turnout there to be at between 30 per cent and 40 per cent, slightly lower than in the 2002 election.
In Baluchistan and Sindh provinces, turnout was estimated at about 35 per cent, officials said.
Although fear and possible apathy kept millions of voters at home on Monday, Talat Hussein from AAJ TV said turnout was similar to previous years.
“Going by previous trends in Pakistan it is not that disappointing. At the end of the day, the voting did pick up and 42 per cent is not exactly a big disappointment,” Hussein told Al Jazeera.
The PPP said 15 of its members had been killed and hundreds more injured in scattered violence “deliberately engineered to deter voters”.
In northwest Pakistan on Tuesday, witnesses said more than 2,000 tribesmen blocked the main highway from Peshawar to the Afghan border, protesting that their favoured candidate had been defeated by electoral fraud.
At least 24 people were killed in election-related violence, mostly in Punjab province.