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Asia

Opposition Triumphs in Pakistan

The Pakistan People’s Party, of slain ex-prime minister Benazir Bhutto, and the PML-N, headed by ex-premier Nawaz Sharif have gained the most votes between them. There is speculation as to whether the rival parties will form a coalition government. Such a scenario could lead to the impeachment of President Musharraf in Parliament.

Supporters of former PM Nawaz Sharif celebrate election triumph

Supporters of former PM Nawaz Sharif celebrate election triumph

One day after the elections, it was sunny and pleasant in Islamabad. While the victorious candidates celebrated with their voters in many parts of the country, life went on at Jinnah Market -- everyone was in high spirits, as expressed by this passer-by: “Everyone is smiling today. The people are whole-heartedly satisfied. Somehow one feels free.”

Were these elections a referendum against Musharraf, as the newspaper commentators are saying? “Of course,” said a street seller. “The people were fed up with poverty and inflation. No electricity, no water, no gas, then the mess which he had created in the judiciary – all that has caught up with him.“

“They haven’t rejected Musharraf, but dictatorship,” said another passer-by. And which issues dominated the elections? This man’s response reflects most people’s opinions: “First let’s look at security. Nobody’s safe anywhere. Then, there’s inflation. That goes for every government. He who fails in both areas has no right to rule.”

Hoping for a coalition

But how is it all likely to unfold? Many people are hoping that the two strongest democratic parties, traditionally rivals, the late Benazir Bhutto’s PPP, and Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N -- will unite in the interest of the country. “The PPP and the PML-N should form a coalition,” thought another street seller. “If the people have voted them they will make the best decision for the people.”

The main thing is democracy, said another passer-by: “Till now, it’s been a one-man show. Whatever Musharraf said happened, full stop. But now there will be a government which will discuss things and introduce bills in Parliament, which will then be acted upon. The times are gone when, in the morning, Mr Musharraf would say: ‘go and kill this amount of people’ and it would happen. ‘Storm this mosque’ and they would go and storm it.”

It’s the brutal behaviour towards militants and Koran students in the Red Mosque last summer which the voters in Islamabad are particularly holding against Musharraf. Many also think that the conflict could have been solved differently. “You can always negotiate,” complained this man. “It’s like that in films and on TV -- the crooks get killed, but the rest comes out in one piece. They should have aimed at such a situation.”

A clear "no" to extremism

In principle, most Pakistanis perceive the conflict with the Taliban in the border region with Afghanistan in the same way. The usual military operations which mostly affect the region’s civilian population are highly unpopular. This attitude should not be understood as sympathising with the extremists.

Apart from Musharraf’s sympathisers, it’s particularly the Islamist parties, which have suffered a defeat in these elections. This passer-by hopes that as a result of that, Pakistan’s image abroad as a stronghold of extremism might improve: “All those who had something to do with it have lost. No Islamist party in North-West Frontier Province is in the government any longer. That means that the people don’t want them. These are encouraging results and we hope that we’ll be well represented on the international level.”

Lost trust

But the new hopes triggered by the election results are dampened by a few sceptical voices. The experiences of the past few years have simply been too difficult.

“We’re not sure what’s going on -- is it true or are they hiding things, the reality -- we’re not sure about it,” one woman said. “The reason why I didn’t cast my vote is that you’re never sure: whether what’s been decided is real. So I am not sure about anything, whatever is going on.”

But one thing is sure -- the new Pakistani government will have to work hard to win back the people’s trust in politicians.
  • Date 19.02.2008
  • Author Thomas Baerthlein (ah)
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  • Permalink http://p.dw.com/p/LrzM
  • Date 19.02.2008
  • Author Thomas Baerthlein (ah)
  • Print Print this page
  • Permalink http://p.dw.com/p/LrzM