Exit Musharraf as Zardari, Sharif set to join hands

By Muhammad Najeeb and Devirupa Mitra, IANS

Islamabad : Asif Ali Zardari’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and former prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s party, topping the election results tally, were set to join hands to form the next government, as Pakistanis decisively voted out the PML-Q backed by President Pervez Musharraf.

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At the end of a historic Tuesday that virtually wrote the political epitaph for Musharraf, who toppled Sharif in a coup in October 1999, slain former prime minister Bhutto’s PPP was ahead with 88 seats (of the 269 seats declared) in the 272-member National Assembly: short of an absolute majority, but a contender for the job of running the country.

And in an ironic twist that is only too common in politics, Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) was also back with 65 seats – and the key to government formation.

“PPP declares victory in all of Pakistan… (We have) won the elections with a majority. We demand to be allowed to make the government along with our allies,” Zardari, husband of Bhutto, told reporters Tuesday night.

Zardari also spoke by telephone with Sharif and the two leaders are expected to meet Wednesday in talks over power-sharing.

Sharif told reporters that petitions against Musharraf’s controversial candidature for presidency last year would be reopened. “I believe whosoever forms the government will restore the judges of superior courts to their pre-Nov 3 position when they were sacked by Musharraf… and these judges will decide on his (Musharraf’s) future.”

The Supreme Court was in the process of hearing a petition against Musharraf’s candidature for the presidential elections when he imposed emergency in the country Nov 3 and sacked all judges of the apex and high courts.

The former prime minister said he was ready to talk to any democratic forces. “I would even accept all leaders of PML-Q (Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid) into the party fold if they want to return to their parent party,” Sharif said.

Both Zardari and Sharif did not contest the elections and cannot become prime minister until they are members of the National Assembly. The prime minister has to be a member of the lower house of the parliament before taking oath of office. However, both have the option of contesting by-polls that can be held by mid-March.

The Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q), which ruled the country with Musharraf’s backing, trailed an embarrassing third with only 38 seats.

Most of its big guns fell by the wayside in the drubbing – these included former prime minister Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, prime minister hopeful and his brother-in-law Chaudhry Pervez Elahi and former ministers Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, Rao Sikandar Iqbal, Liaquat Jotoi, Hamayun Akhtar Khan and Ijazul Haq.

The Muttahidda Qaumi Movement (MQM) with its power base in urban Sindh got 19 seats, the Awami National Party (ANP) 10 and the religious alliance Mutahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) could get only three seats in the National Assembly, a huge comedown from the 78 seats it had in the previous parliament.

In provincial assemblies, PML-N was leading in Punjab, which has 371 seats, with 101 wins. The PPP got 78 seats of the results declared and the PML-Q 66.

In the fight for the 168-seat Sindh assembly, PPP was ahead with 65 seats followed by MQM with 38. In Balochistan, which has 65 seats, the PML-Q was on top with 17 seats.

In the North West Frontier Province (NWFP), which has 124 seats, the ANP was ahead with 31 seats.

As it became evident that the people had marginalized them, the PML-Q accepted defeat but left room for negotiating a role for itself in the next government saying that “nothing can be ruled out in politics”.

Elahi said despite the defeat in the Monday elections, his party had been able to secure a “decent” position to play a key role in the future government.

“The media is portraying that we have been wiped out from politics. No, we are very much in and we are in to play a crucial role,” Elahi told IANS.

Asked if they would make an attempt to form the government, the former Punjab chief minister said: “We are open to discussion… nothing can be ruled out in politics.”

Shujaat Hussain added that the party would be holding a meeting Wednesday to discuss future strategy. He did not rule out an alliance with other parties for forming the government.

Musharraf, who quit as army chief in December before taking oath as a civilian president, told TV news channels: “There should be reconciliation, and nothing should be done in anyone’s personal interest. I believe in politics of conciliation, not of confrontation.”

MQM chief Altaf Hussain has already announced his support to PPP and PML-N in case they form a joint government at the centre. The ANP has also showed its interest in cooperating with the “anti-Musharraf” alliance.