Pakistanis dealt a crushing defeat to President Pervez Musharraf in parliamentary elections 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, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussein, the former speaker of parliament, Chaudhry Amir Hussein, and six ministers.
From unofficial results the private news channel, Aaj Television, forecast that the Pakistan Peoples Party would win 110 seats in the 272-seat national assembly, with Mr. Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-N taking 100 seats.
Mr. Musharraf’s party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Q, was crushed, holding on to just 20 to 30 seats. Early results released by the state news agency, the Associated Press of Pakistan, also showed the Pakistan Peoples Party to be leading in the number of seats in the national assembly.
The Pakistan Peoples Party was run by Benazir Bhutto, and is now led by her widower and 19-year-old son. What seems likeliest now is a joint PPP-PMLN government, most likely run by Sharif (though if Bhutto’s son becomes PM, I really need to get a move on). There are already rumors of Musharraf’s resignation:
A few hours after the size of the defeat became clear, the government eased up on the restrictions against Aitzaz Ahsan, the leader of the lawyers’ movement that has opposed the president. Mr. Ahsan, who has been under house arrest since last November, when Mr. Musharraf imposed emergency rule for six weeks, found the phones in his house were suddenly reconnected.
“Musharraf should be preparing a C-130 for Turkey,” Mr. Ahsan said, referring to Mr. Musharraf’s statements that he might retire to Turkey, where he spent part of his childhood.
Two politicians close to Mr. Musharraf have said in the past week that the president was well aware of the drift in the country against him and they suggested that he would not remain in office if the new government was in direct opposition to him. “He does not have the fire in the belly for another fight,” said one member of his party. He added that Mr. Musharraf was building a house for himself in Islamabad and would be ready soon to move.
Here’s hoping he follows through with that. Meanwhile, this news is being overshadowed by Fidel Castro’s resignation. This is a mere formality, given as Raúl has run the country since 2006, but the presidential candidates’ comments on the matter are revealing. Obama’s support for increased engagement is of a piece with his least-crazy record on the matter, while McCain’s statement is high on lofty, pro-democracy rhetoric and low on policy, and Clinton’s shows off her staff’s innumeracy (2008-1959 ≠ 58, guys). There’s a good Foreign Policy article from a few years ago documenting Raúl’s greater sympathy toward the free market; hopefully he’ll institute something along the lines of perestroika, with similar effects on his grasp on power.