By Jo Johnson and Farhan Bokhari in Islamabad
Published: October 6 2007 21:57 | Last updated: October 6 2007 21:57
Pervez Musharraf has secured an overwhelming majority in Pakistan’s presidential elections, bringing a new five year term within reach of the 64 year old army chief. If his victory is confirmed, General Musharraf, who seized power in 1999 coup and later became a key ally in the US war on terror, stands to become Pakistan’s longest-serving ruler.
Workers of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League (Q) thronged the front lawn of the president’s palace in Islamabad at dusk on Saturday, dancing to the beat of drums and shooting firecrackers. Cries of ‘long live Musharraf’ and ‘Pakistan is stronger under Musharraf’ resounded down the capital’s main boulevard, Constitution Avenue.
“After my re-election we will move towards total civilian rule”, Mr Musharraf, who has pledged to step down as army chief by November 15 if re-elected president, told journalists. General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani was last week named as Pakistan’s vice army chief from October 8, positioning him to succeed Mr Musharraf as army chief
“The results show the people want continuity, stability and economic growth,” Shaukat Aziz, Pakistan’s prime minister, told Pakistan Television, noting that the election had passed peacefully, barring “a few minor incidents in Peshawar”, where lawyers were filmed scuffling with security forces.
Opposition parties are now pinning their hopes on the Supreme Court, which on Friday instructed the Election Commission not to declare an official result until it had heard petitions challenging General Musharraf’s eligibility as a candidate as well the validity of his indirect re-election by five year old assemblies.
The Court said on Friday that it would start hearing the petition from Justice (retired) Wajihuddin Ahmed, a candidate put forward by activist lawyers, on October 17. It gave no indication of how long it might take to reach a decision, leaving open what is seen as a slender possibility that the election result might be overturned.
“If this petition is now decided in our favour and a new election is ordered to take place in a new electoral college, then we have a very good chance,” Justice Ahmed told the FT. Parliamentary elections, which are likely to throw up an electoral college far less favourable to Mr Musharraf, must be held within 60 days of November 15.
It was certain that Mr Musharraf would sweep the vote as pro-government parties hold a majority in the outgoing Electoral College. This majority was inflated when opposition MPs, many of them loyal to Nawaz Sharif, an exiled former prime minister, attempted to discredit the election by resigning from their assembly seats
The Pakistan People’s Party of Benazir Bhutto, the former prime minister who has for several months been edging towards a power-sharing deal with Mr Musharraf, took a middle path, participating in the poll but abstaining from voting for any of the candidates, including even their own, Makhdoom Mohammad Amin Faheem.
“This has been the most controversial election in the history of Pakistan, with one political party electing the president,” said Senator Farooq Naek, a senior PPP leader.” Now we must see what the Supreme Court decides on October 17. If they disqualify him, there’ll be a new election.”
Pakistan’s president is elected by the members of the National Assembly and Senate, as well as the members of the four provincial assemblies. Mr Musharraf secured 671 – 57 per cent – of the 1,170 possible votes and about 98 per cent of the 684 valid votes cast. Mr Ahmed received eight votes. Six ballots were invalid, election officials said.
Mr Musharraf won 252 of the 254 votes cast by the 442-member National Assembly and Senate. Even without the boycott, he would also have secured a majority in three of the four provinces. Only in the volatile North-West Frontier, where he won 31 out of 32 votes cast by a 124-member provincial assembly, did his share fall below half
“The election is a fraud,” said Abdul Rahman, a middle-aged man standing near the Lal Masjid, the mosque and madrasa complex in Islamabad where a disputed number of religious students, including his 17 year old son, died in a raid by commandos in July. “How can I ever support him given what he’s done to my son?”
Mohammed Munawar, a 51 year old farmer, said: “I can’t tolerate Musharraf for another five days, let alone another five years. As a Muslim, how can I ever support him given that he attacks mosques? Our problem is that we have no real choice but Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto. The religious parties are just as bad.”
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007