Musharraf urged to go as rivals win Pakistan poll

Updated: 2008-02-19 23:52

ISLAMABAD, Feb 19 - Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf's opponents won a big election victory on Tuesday as voters rejected his former ruling party, raising doubts whether the U.S. ally who has ruled since 1999 can keep power.

Nawaz Sharif, the prime minister Musharraf overthrew in a coup and only allowed back from exile three months ago, urged Musharraf to accept he was no longer wanted.

"He would say when people would want, I will go. Today the people have said what they want," Sharif said after his party ran a close second in Monday's polls.

A wave of sympathy helped the Pakistan People's Party of assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto emerge as the largest party in the 342 seat National Assembly.

But it does not have a majority and will need to seek coalition partners.

Bhutto's assassination in a suicide attack on December 27 heightened concern about the stability of the nuclear-armed Muslim state, where al Qaeda leaders have taken refuge.

Musharraf, who emerged as a crucial U.S. ally in a "war on terror" most Pakistanis think is Washington's, not theirs, has seen his popularity plummet in the last year as he reeled from one political crisis to another.

Groups of happy opposition supporters celebrated in the streets in cities across the country as results rolled out showing pro-Musharraf politicians losing.

"The promises that have been made by Nawaz Sharif and People's Party should now be fulfilled and they should do something for the country and not for themselves," said Mohammed Arif, sitting in his pharmacy in Karachi.


The pro-Musharraf Pakistan Muslim League trailed a distant third, and the party's spokesman conceded defeat after the voters' verdict but kept alive chances of joining a coalition.

"They have rejected our policies and we have accepted their verdict," PML's Tariq Azim Khan told Reuters.

"For the best interest of the country, we're willing to cooperate and work with anybody."

While it was not a presidential election, a hostile parliament could try to remove Musharraf.

Sharif said he planned to meet Bhutto's widower, Asif Ali Zardari, who took over the helm of the PPP, on Thursday.

"I am looking forward to working with all democratic forces," he said.

Some analysts said differences between the PPP and Sharif's party made a coalition doubtful.

Counting was continuing with results still awaited in less than 20 seats, but no party could win a majority.

As of 6 p.m. (1300 GMT), unofficial results for 252 seats showed Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party (PPP) had won 86 and Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) had 65.

The pro-Musharraf PML trailed with 37. Small parties and independents shared the others.

A few seats weren't contested, while 70 reserved for women and religious minorities will be divided up proportionately among parties according to the number of votes they won.

Musharraf has said he would accept the results and work with whoever won to build democracy in a country that has alternated between civilian and army rule throughout its 60-year history.

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