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Pakistan poll result is the sign of a mature electorate, say observers

Nirupama Subramanian

International monitors give the election an overall clean chit

— PHOTO: AFP

JUSTICE FOR JUDICIARY: A protester calling for the restoration of dismissed judges, in Lahore on Wednesday.

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s February 18 elections are being described as the country’s fairest after the 1970 elections and the exemplary conduct of the people and political parties during the vote and after as evidence that years of military dictatorship have not destroyed an inherent democratic culture.

The election was not entirely free of allegations of foul play but all parties accepted the verdict.

Pakistan Muslim league (N) president Nawaz Sharif said that the biggest evidence of “pre-poll rigging” was that he and his brother were disqualified from contesting the election. He described the party’s situation in the election as akin to being under siege by an enemy.

“We were surrounded on all sides. The administration was the PMLQ’s, the police was theirs, the local government was theirs. But thanks to Allah and the support of the people, we were able to break the siege and come out,” he said.

PPP leader Asif Ali Zardari also alleged rigging in selective constituencies, but did not press the point. “This is a sombre moment for us. We have won the elections and we have accepted the results. We have lost our leader Benazir Bhutto and now we will fulfill her agenda,” he said.

Despite the pre-election bad blood, few incidents marred the polling day. In polling stations in Rawalpindi, for instance, where the Pakistan Muslim League (Q) was battling for its life in a tough contest against the PML(N), the atmosphere between polling agents of different parties was completely friendly.

Analysts have interpreted the vote, a stunning indictment of President Pervez Musharraf and his PML (Q) government, as the sign of a politically mature electorate that was not carried away by sympathy for Benazir or personalities, but voted on issues.

While the votes to the PPP in Sindh were influenced by Benazir’s killing, the sympathy factor did not extend across the country. The PML (N)’s performance in Punjab is attributed to its strong stand on the issues of democracy and the rule of law, a view reinforced by the absence of strong personalities among the party’s candidates.

A candidate told this correspondent before the election that the feudal politics of Pakistan meant that even “a dog from my family will be elected”. A member of the PML (Q), the contestant was in the PPP before the 2002 election. The candidate’s family had won every election in that constituency for 70 years, but he was defeated this time.

Writing in The News, political analyst Nasim Zehra described the results as “reminiscent of the 1970 election” — that was the year that the Awami League of Sheikh Mujibur Rehman emerged as the majority party — “when genuine political forces won the day” and urged the victorious political forces not to let down the electorate, and deliver on the promises they made to work together and promote the interests of the people.

Dawn newspaper said the verdict had made one point “manifestly clear”, that the “people are quite capable of deciding who runs their country and how”. The newspaper also pointed out that Gen. (Rtd) Musharraf had to be handed credit for “an election that has been by and large free and fair”.

Expressing a similar view, the Daily Times despite the fears that Gen. Musharraf would try to ensure that the Pakistan Muslim League (Q) would get a respectable number of seats, nothing of the sort happened.

The PML(Q) president Chaudhary Shujat Hussain, who was defeated in his home constituency Gujrat, said on Tuesday that he accepted the verdict against the party.

He said members of the party had been in the opposition before, and were prepared to sit it out again.

He said the party had elected Gen. Musharraf and would stand by him.

International election monitors who were in Pakistan to observe the process on February 18 also gave the election an overall clean chit.

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