- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 21, 2008


For a change, good news arrives from Pakistan. Despite irregularities and fears of massive election-rigging, Monday’s parliamentary elections have given voice to millions of Pakistanis discontented with President Pervez Musharraf, handing his party significant losses, catapulting the opposition Pakistani’s People Party (PPP) into a legislative plurality while also improving the position of the other major opposition force, the Pakistan Muslim League (PLM-N). The government also managed to stave off devastating suicide attacks. Not only should this unexpectedly credible outcome relieve some political tensions, but, managed properly, it could be the beginning of a more open and democratic Pakistan.

Mr. Musharraf’s Pakistan Muslim League (PML-Q), previously the leading party of a majority coalition, lost nearly one-third of its seats and must now legislate as Pakistan’s third party, behind the late Benazir Bhutto’s PPP and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N. The stage looks to be set for some kind of coalition government between the two opposition parties, which began negotiating on Monday. There is legitimate worry that these two opposition parties so fiercely critical of Mr. Musharraf might govern at loggerheads with the president and thus cause paralysis or result in weak prosecution of antiterror policies urged by the United States. Either possibility is troubling, but the parties must avail themselves of every opportunity to prove the doubters wrong.

There is another piece of good news in this week’s results, and that is how poorly hardline Islamism fared in Pakistan’s elections. As recently as 2002, Pakistan’s biggest Islamist coalition, the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), won 59 seats. After this week’s elections, the MMA has only three. This is an unmistakable rebuke of political Islam. It suggests that ordinary Pakistanis do not envy what Islamists have wrought and will avail themselves of better options when given the chance.

Whether Mr. Musharraf and opposition leaders can deliver a working government is the big question following this week’s events, but for now it is noteworthy enough that the Pakistani people have done their democratic part, and, importantly, that Mr. Musharraf deserves credit for trodding sufficiently lightly for such an outcome to occur.

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