Bhutto’s party seeks coalition – Al Jazeera – 20 Feb.08

Nawaz Sharif

The Pakistan People’s party (PPP) has said it will try to form a coalition goverment without the pro-Musharraf Pakistan Muslim League-Q.

“We will form a government of national consensus which will take along every democratic force,” Asif Ali Zardari, the party’s co-chairman told a news conference in Islamabad on Tuesday.

The PPP won the most seats in the national assembly in Monday’s elections, while the PML-Q, which supports Pervez Musharraf, the president, trailed a distant third.

“For now, the decision of the party is that we are not interested in any of those people who are part and parcel of the last government,” Zardari, the widower of assassinated former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, said.

He said the PPP would try to persuade the party of Nawaz Sharif, the prime minister whom Musharraf overthrew in 1999, to join the PPP in power.

Ruling party defeated

The PPP move came after partial elections results gave opposition parties enough seats to form a new government.

Tariq Azeem, spokesman for the PML-Q said that the party would “accept the verdict of the nation”.

“We officially concede defeat,” he said.

Several leading PML-Q candidates, including its chief, lost their seats and unofficial results on state television showed the party trailing behind the two main opposition parties.

“This is the basic spirit of democracy,” Azeem said. “We believe the elections were free and fair and everybody must accept the decision for the betterment of Pakistan.”

Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, head of the PML-Q, said that his party accepted the result and “will sit on opposition benches”.

With counting in from 257 constituencies, PML-Q and its allies had taken a total of 57 seats.

The Pakistan People’s party (PPP), the party of Benazir Bhutto, the opposition leader assassinated in December last year, had 86 seats, according to preliminary results.

The PML-N gained 65 seats, with smaller parties and independents taking the rest.

Full results were not expected until late on Tuesday or early Wednesday.

Musharraf urged to quit

Meanwhile, Nawaz Sharif was among those who called on Musharraf to step down.

Sharif told reporters in the eastern city of Lahore that “Musharraf has said he would quit when people tell him. People have now given their verdict”.

However, Major General Rashid Qureshi, the presidential spokesman, rejected the demand.

He said: “They are way off in their demands. This is not the election for president. President Musharraf is already elected for five years.”

Aitzaz Ahsan, a former minister and lawyer, currently detained, also asked Musharraf to quit.

Ahsan has been under detention since Musharraf imposed a state of emergency last November, sacking Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, the chief justice and other judges to clear legal obstacles to his second presidential term.

Ahsan led Chaudhry’s legal fight against his suspension by Musharraf in March 2007.

“He [Musharraf] is the most hated man in the country and he must resign, there is no other way.”

The lawyer also called on Musharraf to reinstate sacked members of the country’s judiciary.

“If they are not reinstated by the 9th of March then we will march on Islamabad, the lawyers and the judges,” he said.

Musharraf has said he would work with the new government regardless of which party wins.

“I will give them full co-operation as president, whatever is my role,” he said after voting in Rawalpindi.

But with the support of smaller groups and independent candidates, the opposition could now gain the two-thirds majority in parliament needed to impeach the president.

‘Free and fair’

Opposition parties had feared the polls would be rigged, but analysts from Washington-based Strategic Forecasting said the elections “seem to have been decently free and fair”.

Sarwar Bari, of the non-profit Free and Fair Elections Network, said his group’s 20,000 election observers reported a voter turnout of about 35 per cent, the same as in the 1997 election and the lowest in Pakistan’s history.

Ayaz Baig, the election commissioner in Punjab, estimated the turnout there to be between 30 per cent and 40 per cent, slightly lower than in the 2002 election.

In Baluchistan and Sindh provinces, turnout was estimated at about 35 per cent, officials said.

Although fear and possible apathy kept millions of voters at home on Monday, Talat Hussein from Aaj TV said turnout was similar to previous years.

“Going by previous trends in Pakistan it is not that disappointing. At the end of the day, the voting did pick up and 42 per cent is not exactly a big disappointment,” Hussein told Al Jazeera.

The PPP said 15 of its members had been killed and hundreds more injured in scattered violence “deliberately engineered to deter voters”.

In northwest Pakistan on Tuesday, witnesses said more than 2,000 tribesmen blocked the main highway from Peshawar to the Afghan border, protesting that their favoured candidate had been defeated by electoral fraud.

At least 24 people were killed in election-related violence, mostly in Punjab province.

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