ISLAMABAD (AFP) – Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf’s political allies conceded defeat Tuesday after elections, leaving the party of slain opposition leader Benazir Bhutto and other opponents headed for victory.
The Pakistan Muslim League-Q saw its chief and several key members lose their seats in Monday’s polls and unofficial results announced on state television showed they could not attain a parliamentary majority.
“We accept the verdict of the nation,” Tariq Azeem, spokesman for the party which backed Musharraf, a key ally in the US-led “war on terror”, throughout the last parliament. “We officially concede defeat.”
With counting in from 257 constituencies, PML-Q and its allies had taken a total of 57 seats.
Even if they won all the remaining seats not yet counted, they would not be able to attain a majority in the parliament, which has 272 elected and 70 unelected seats.
“This is the basic spirit of democracy,” Azeem told AFP. “We believe the elections were free and fair and everybody must accept the decision for the betterment of Pakistan.”
State television said Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) had 85 seats, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s faction of the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) had 65 seats, with PML-Q, smaller parties and independents taking the rest, according to preliminary results.
“It is understood the previous ruling coalition cannot form the government now” a senior party official told AFP.
Opposition supporters took to the streets chanting the names of Sharif and Bhutto in the small hours of Tuesday when early counting showed their parties sweeping the board after Monday’s parliamentary elections.
The death of Bhutto in a December 27 gun and suicide attack — along with other suicide bombings — overshadowed the campaign and forced the election’s delay to Monday.
The vote was the final step on the nuclear-armed nation’s path to civilian democracy after eight years of turbulent military rule by the increasingly unpopular Musharraf.
The opposition feared polls would be rigged but private Washington-based analysts Strategic Forecasting said “the elections seem to have been decently free and fair.”
Azeem earlier told AFP: “If the results are confirmed we will play the part of the opposition as effectively as we can.”
High-profile victims who lost their seats included party president Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain and almost all of Musharraf’s former cabinet, including close presidential ally Sheikh Rashid.
“The results are shocking,” a party official said on condition of anonymity.
Full results were not expected until late Tuesday or early Wednesday.
“The people of Pakistan spoke emphatically against President Pervez Musharraf and his allies….” The News daily said in its lead article.
Musharraf will become a powerless leader at best — and could lose his job — if the trends were confirmed, analysts said.
“It appears that Musharraf was no longer able to make use of the state machinery (especially the intelligence agencies) to rig the vote,” Strategic Forecasting said.
Observers said Musharraf would likely try to woo Bhutto’s party and split it from Sharif’s, but said the president faced major problems.
“For him the most crucial issue will be his political survival rather than fighting the war against terrorism,” said political analyst Hasan Askari, in a warning to Musharraf’s Western allies.
Musharraf was viewed by the United States as its bulwark in the fight against Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants based in Pakistan’s tribal areas on the border with Afghanistan.
After casting his ballot, the embattled president said he would accept the outcome.
“The result will be the voice of the nation and whosoever wins we should accept it — that includes myself,” he told state television.
The election commission said turnout was about the same as in the previous two elections.
Musharraf toppled Sharif in a coup in 1999 but stepped down as army chief in November last year amid political turmoil and bloodshed sparked by his efforts to maintain power.
Spokesmen for the parties of both Bhutto and Sharif said they expected to win and would hold talks with other opposition groups.
Shakir Hussain, an administrator with Sharif’s party in eastern Lahore city, called Sharif “a saviour of Pakistan” and predicted he will be prime minister for a third time.