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    Wednesday, February 13, 2008

    Election, Pervez, trouble.

    With the election only days away, a survey released yesterday by a U.S.-funded group with ties to the Republican Party found that support for President Pervez Musharraf had plunged to an all-time low and that opposition parties appeared poised to score a landslide victory.

    Only 9% believed Pakistan should co-operate with the U.S. in the war against terror, the survey said.
    ( Survey not linked? )


    Opposition victory not a certainty in Pakistan

    Published: February 13 2008 16:58 | Last updated: February 13 2008 16:58

    It is midnight and Khurshid Kasuri, foreign minister in Pakistan's outgoing government, limps home from the campaign trail. One of the most prominent members of Pervez Musharraf's military-backed regime seeking re-election in Monday's general election, Mr Kasuri is fighting a hotly contested rural constituency in Punjab, the populous and relatively wealthy province that accounts for a little more than half the country's 272 contested parliamentary seats.

    Keepsakes from his years in government adorn the ­living room of Kasuri's imposing home in Gulberg, a smart district of Lahore: photographs show him with George W. Bush and Condoleezza Rice of the US, others with Chinese and Indian leaders. But if a wave of sympathy for the Pakistan People's Party washes over the Punjab, triggered by the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, those days might soon be at an end.

    Taken at face value, national polls by organisations such as the International Republican Institute, a non-profit group dedicated to advancing democracy worldwide, suggest the two main opposition parties, the PPP and the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), are set for a landslide. This would demolish the Pakistan Muslim League (Quaid-e-Azam), the party set up to support the regime of Mr Musharraf.

    Its latest poll, released on Monday, found that the president's popularity has tumbled to all-time lows in the wake of Bhutto's assassination in December, and growing concern over the deteriorating security situation and the worsening economy. A number of moves that should have improved his position, including the ending of the state of emergency and his resignation as army chief, have failed to deliver a bounce in his ratings.

    Three-quarters of Pakistanis now want Mr Musharraf out of office. The pro-Musharraf PML (Q) comes a distant third, with just 14 per cent, far behind the PPP, supported by 50 per cent in the national sample, and the PML-N, which came second with 22 per cent. Some 79 per cent of those polled said they would assume the elections had been rigged if the PML (Q) won the most seats.

    Such an outcome would dash Mr Musharraf's hopes of a hung parliament. With his party unable to hold the balance of power, he would be forced to accept a marginal role in national politics. If he failed to come to terms with his new role as third fiddle to the prime minister and army chief, the PPP and PML (N) could even move an impeachment motion against him, assuming they had the required two-thirds of parliamentary seats.

    But observers of Pakistan's feudal politics say it is too soon to be writing Mr Musharraf's political obituary. Politics in Pakistan is largely local, determined by power-plays between rivals on the ground. "When you get down to district level, it's all about the candidate," says Mr Kasuri, a PML (Q) politician from one of Pakistan's oldest political families. "Parties have relatively little influence."

    A western diplomat, who doubts that opposition parties will be able to form a government without PML (Q) support, agrees: "The chances of anyone securing an absolute majority are nil. It could be the PPP that ends up on top, or it could be the PML (Q). It's entirely possible that both parties could get between 70 and 80 seats.

    "It will all depend on the outcome of a small number of swing seats in southern Punjab."
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