Even more notable was the voter turnout. According to Pakistan's Daily Times today, "The most remarkable showing was in Rawalpindi, repeatedly targeted by the terrorists in the past year. Voters came out much above the national average of 40 percent to vote for the PML-N, paralleling the reactive vote for late Ms Benazir Bhutto in rural Sindh." The Times added, "Unsurprisingly, the decline of the MMA in the NWFP has allowed the secular ANP to make a remarkable comeback, opening up new possibilities of repairing the cultural fabric of the province presently threatened by suicide-bombers." Prominent lawyer and PPP member, Aitzaz Ahsan further underscored the significance of the results, and told the Washington Post, "General Musharraf represents the rule of man over law, and the resounding verdict of the people is that they yearn to be ruled by laws, not men."
I tend to be a realist, especially when it comes to Pakistan, and while I recognize the great achievements this week, I also acknowledge that the elections left the political landscape far from clear. As the Post noted, neither the PPP or the PML-N gained a clear majority and neither has put forth a concrete PM candidate, "thus opening the door to complicated coalitions and deals." And lest we forget the political failings of both parties while in power in the 1990s. The NY Times reported, "American officials were particularly skeptical of Mr. Zardari, who has faced corruption charges in Pakistan and abroad and has come to his current position of leadership only through his wife’s death." Former PM and PML-N head Nawaz Sharif also faced corruption charges during his two terms in power. Although both leaders agree essentially on opposing terrorism and cooperating with the U.S., the two parties have been long-time political rivals. Therefore, their recent talks of a Coalition government is both significant and remains contingent on whether they can put their historical differences aside for "a greater good." So far, they have announced that they will take a new approach to fighting Islamist militants, "pursuing more dialogue than military confrontation," reported the NY Times. They also pledged to undo the crackdown on the media and restore independence to the judiciary.
And what about the fate of Musharraf? The AFP reported Wednesday that the President has rejected demands to quit, calling instead for a "harmonious coalition." The news agency added, "Musharraf was making his first official comments since Monday's crucial parliamentary vote, which left him fighting for his political life after his allies suffered a heavy defeat." Despite his call for this "harmonious" alliance, both Sharif and Zardari have called for his resignation.
The bottom line? The elections were only the first step - whether or not these parties can successfully address Pakistan's multitude of problems remains to be seen. [Image from the NY Times]