Pakistan: Elections

by hilzoy

The Pakistani elections have taken place. Turnout was low, partly because of fear -- it was estimated to be around 35%. And Musharraf seems to have lost decisively:

"Pakistanis dealt a crushing defeat to President Pervez Musharraf in parliamentary elections on Monday, in what government and opposition politicians said was a firm rejection of his policies since 2001 and those of his close ally, the United States.

Almost all the leading figures in the Pakistan Muslim League-Q, the party that has governed for the last five years under Mr. Musharraf, lost their seats, including the leader of the party, the former speaker of Parliament and six ministers.

Official results are expected Tuesday, but early returns indicated that the vote would usher in a prime minister from one of the opposition parties, and opened the prospect of a Parliament that would move to undo many of Mr. Musharraf’s policies and that may even try to remove him.

Early results showed equal gains for the Pakistan Peoples Party, whose leader, Benazir Bhutto, was assassinated on Dec. 27, and the Pakistan Muslim League-N, the faction led by Nawaz Sharif, like Ms. Bhutto a former prime minister. Each party may be in a position to form the next government.

The results were interpreted here as a repudiation of Mr. Musharraf as well as the Bush administration, which has staunchly backed him for more than six years as its best bet in the campaign against the Islamic militants in Pakistan. American officials will have little choice now but to seek alternative allies from among the new political forces emerging from the vote."

As the NYT rather tactfully says:

"The results opened a host of new challenges for the Bush administration, which has been criticized in Congress and by Pakistan analysts for relying too heavily on Mr. Musharraf. Even as Mr. Musharraf’s standing plummeted and the insurgency gained strength, senior Bush administration officials praised Mr. Musharraf as a valued partner in the effort against terrorism."

Yep: when your policy involves relying exclusively on one increasingly unpopular leader, and that leader is demolished in an election, it tends to open "a host of new challenges." All the more so since by aligning ourselves so closely with Musharraf, we did real damage to our own reputation in Pakistan.

One interesting note: as far as I can tell, the Pakistani religious parties seem to have done very, very badly. Here are the results so far; the MMA is the union of religious parties, and it looks as though they are being demolished. Background here: apparently, the MMA was both divided and not very good at running things. Interestingly, the party that seems to have done best in the NWFP is a secular Pashtun nationalist party.

I hope this means that we won't hear any more hyperventilating about the possibility that jihadis could sweep to power in Pakistan at any minute if we don't keep supporting dictators. The religious parties have never been very popular in Pakistan. They seem to be even less popular now.