Musharraf sweeps Pakistan presidential polls

By Muhammad Najeeb, IANS

Islamabad : Incumbent Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf won Saturday’s controversial presidential election by a huge margin, according to results announced by chief election commissioner. Formal notification of the military ruler as the winner has been barred by the Supreme Court, which is hearing petitions challenging his candidacy when he is the army chief.

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The election was the most dreary in Pakistan’s history with the entire opposition away from the parliament and provincial assemblies. Benazir Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples Party joined the poll boycott despite the government’s Friday ordinance exempting her from prosecution on corruption charges.

The poll was held while lawyers — in the forefront of the agitation against the military ruler — held demonstrations against the process here and in provincial capitals. The protest in Peshawar led to violence, and there were some serious injuries.

As per the results announced following the polls, Musharraf — who seized power in a bloodless coup in 1999 — got 671 votes from an electoral college that would have had a strength of 1,072 if all members of national and provincial legislatures had been voting.

Musharraf’s closest rival, former Supreme Court judge Wajihuddin Ahmed, had eight votes cast in his favour.

Pakistan’s Chief Election Commissioner Qazi Muhammad Farooq announced the results despite a bar by the Supreme Court. In its order Friday, Pakistan’s Supreme Court had said that the election process should proceed as per schedule but the “final notification (of the winner) will not be issued until the decision of the petition challenging Musharraf’s re-election in uniform, for which the process is to begin from Oct 17.”

Interpreting the court order, Attorney General Abdul Qayoom said that results could be announced but the winner could not be notified.

“(A total of) 257 votes were polled, two were declared invalid, and Mr Pervez Musharraf won 252 and Mr. Wajihuddin two,” Farooq declared at parliament house after the voting.

The total strength of both chambers of parliament is 442 — with 342 members in the national assembly and 100 in the senate.

Ahmed got two votes from the federal parliament while three were declared invalid. Eighty-six members of the All Parties Democratic Alliance had already resigned from the federal parliament. In the National Assembly, 199 members voted in the election while in the Senate 58 members cast their votes.

Musharraf got 253 votes in the Punjab assembly, where the total strength is 372. Ahmed got three votes while one vote was declared void.

In the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) where the assembly has a total strength of 124, Musharraf received 31 votes, Ahmed got one and two votes were declared void.

The Balochistan assembly has a strength of 65. Thirty-three votes were cast, all in favour of Musharraf.

In Sindh, Musharraf got 102 votes and Ahmed two in a house of 165.

The win makes Musharraf Pakistan’s first military ruler to be elected by parliament, though almost all opposition legislators have resigned from national and provincial assemblies against his contesting for the post while in uniform.

The third candidate, Makhdoom Amin Fahim of PPP, had already announced boycott of the proceedings amid the resignation of 199 members of the All Parties Democratic Alliance (APDM) from the national and provincial assemblies, reducing the total strength of the electoral college from the original 1,072.

PPP also abstained from the widely condemned electoral exercise, making the announcement just before the voting started.

“We cannot vote for a president in uniform, we will abstain,” Fahim told reporters at the National Assembly, the lower house of parliament.

“This is a great day…and voting went in a peaceful and decent manner,” Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz said after the polling. “I congratulate the nation,” he said, adding people should know that the politics of self-interest by the opposition had been defeated and it was the “victory of truth”.

Musharraf’s two rivals — Fahim and Ahmed — and some opposition politicians have challenged his candidature in the Supreme Court.

Amid the opposition boycott and protests on the streets, members of the federal parliament and provincial assemblies supporting the government voted from 10 a.m. in the parliament house here and in the provincial assemblies in Karachi, Lahore, Quetta and Peshawar.

Strict security arrangements were made in the twin cities of Rawalpindi and Islamabad. Hundreds of policemen were deployed around the parliament building where lawyers were expected to stage a demonstration. The election commission for the first time used translucent or see-through ballot boxes.

The APDM had given a countrywide strike call while lawyers, in the forefront of a campaign against Musharraf, observed a “black day” Saturday, taking out protest marches in Peshawar, Islamabad and other cities.

The protests turned violent in Peshawar, leading to clashes with the police in which at least 20 people were injured. A police jeep was set on fire. The lawyers burnt an effigy of Musharraf, shouting slogans like “Go Musharraf Go!” Leading lawyer Latif Afridi was seriously injured. Both his legs were broken during the clashes.

Soon after the declaration of results, contrary to expectations the treasury members started walking out of parliament without any celebrations.

“Musharraf’s deal with Bhutto has dampened the victory,” an MP remarked while requesting anonymity.

He was of the view that now the members of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid-e-Azam (PML-Q) can see their “dark future” in the next government. “I think now the parliament will be dominated by PPP and the prime minister will be Benazir,” he said.

Although Musharraf is Pakistan’s fourth military ruler after Ayub Khan, Yahya Khan and Zia ul Haq, he is the first to get elected by parliament. All the others preferred to give legitimacy to their rule through referendums.

Musharraf had declared himself president for five years after a referendum in 2001 and then got a vote of confidence from the present parliament in November 2002.

Musharraf has announced a return to civilian rule after his election for the second term. His first tenure as president ends Nov 15 after which he is expected to doff his military uniform.

The PPP is opposed to Musharraf’s presidential ambitions while he is the army chief, but its leader Benazir Bhutto is locked in a power sharing deal with the president to help her return to Pakistan and fight general elections.

In a desperate bid to have former prime minister Bhutto on his side, Musharraf, whose popularity is rapidly on the wane, Friday night issued an ordinance giving immunity to politicians and bureaucrats facing corruption and criminal charges in courts.

Bhutto, who faces several corruption charges, is the main beneficiary of the ordinance.

But both PPP and the government insist that the ordinance is not individual specific, but a step towards national reconciliation. They are comparing it with the post-apartheid era in South Africa.