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Tue 19 Feb 2008 11:17 AM

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Musharraf could face impeachment

Early results from Pakistan's parliamentary elections point to crushing defeat for President.

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf will become a powerless leader at best - and could lose his job - if early Tuesday results pointing towards an opposition win in parliamentary elections are confirmed, analysts said.

The former ruling party which has backed Musharraf for the past five and a half years conceded that the parties of former prime ministers Nawaz Sharif and the slain opposition leader Benazir Bhutto had made "big gains" in Monday's critical vote.

After holding a firm grip on power for eight years, the former general and key US ally in the fight against Al-Qaeda will have to make frantic deals with a hostile parliament that could theoretically call for his impeachment, the analysts said.

"Musharraf has become a lame duck president," said Hasan Askari, a political analyst teaching at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University in Washington, DC.

"For him the most crucial issue will be his political survival rather than fighting the war against terrorism."

Askari said Musharraf will "find it difficult to work with the opposition that wants to undo most of the steps taken by him after the suspension of the constitution in November" under a state of emergency.

The president's influence had already been eroded by his resignation as army chief that same month after months of political turmoil, a move that robbed him of his main source of power, he added.

State television said that with 125 out of 272 constituencies counted, Sharif's faction of the Pakistan Muslim League had 51 seats, Bhutto's PPP had 44 and the PML-Q, had 18, with smaller parties and independents taking the rest.

In 2002 elections the pro-Musharraf Pakistan Muslim League-Q party won 130 seats and three allied parties won another 53 seats.

If the early results pointing towards heavy losses for the PML-Q prove correct, he will face a fresh struggle for allies when the new parliament convenes in the coming weeks.

Sharif, the leader he ousted in a coup in 1999, has been uncompromising in his calls for the man he calls the "dictator" to step down, while Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party (PPP) still mistrusts him after the death of its leader in a gun and suicide attack at a political rally on December 27.

Analysts said that with neither party likely to be able to form a government on their own, Musharraf may try to split the PPP from Sharif with the promise of the prime minister's post if they join with independent MPs who are loyal to him.

But the possibility remains that the opposition could unite to get the two-thirds majority they need to seek his ouster through impeachment, although analysts see this as unlikely because Musharraf retains power to dissolve the government.

"The situation is extremely troublesome for him. He may try to undermine the internal coherence of the opposition but it is such a landslide that he may find it difficult to stay at the helm of the affairs," Askari said.

Shafqat Mahmood, a political analyst and newspaper columnist, said any attempt at manipulating the opposition would fail.

"He hasn't a hope in hell," Mahmood said. "If Musharraf thinks that he can still survive by manipulating the PPP or a faction of the PPP to join him he is seriously mistaken."

Mahmood said Musharraf's attempts to cling to power were a "stumbling block to any national revival" after the country's worst period of political turmoil for more than 30 years, coupled with a wave of Islamist violence.

"Now the people have spoken. All the parties opposed to him have won," Mahmood said. "He must leave now."

Musharraf himself on Monday called for reconciliation after the vote.

"Whoever wins the polls, as president of Pakistan, I will function with them in a totally harmonious manner," Musharraf told state television after he cast his vote in the garrison city of Rawalpindi.

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