Pakistan - Politics
After Benazir Bhutto's assassination, the various political parties gamed out the way forward. Before Bhutto's death, it was clear that no one party would win enough votes to form a government, and even a pro-Pakistan People's Party (PPP) surge on election day will not change this. The long-term game continues to be one of alliance building for a post-election coalition. Benazir's widower, Asif Zardari, worked to keep the PPP together despite a leadership struggle and expects to reap a large sympathy vote in the February 18 elections. Musharraf's Pakistan Muslim League (PML) party scrambled to cope with a significant voter backlash from the assassination, the government's clumsy handling of the investigation and public discontent over electrical power and flour shortages. Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) party seemed incapable of implementing a coherent political strategy. Fazlur Rehman's Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F) party was also struggling to stem voter discontent with its policies, and the Awami National Party (ANP) hoped to benefit from religious bloc losses. The PPP surge seemed likely will undercut the Muttahida Quami Movement's (MQM) ambitions to broaden its base.
The PPP's candidate for Prime Minister, Amin Faheem, was Zardari's main rival. He was the PPP's in-country leader through eight years of Bhutto's self-imposed exile and has significant rank and file support. As she did with all potential rivals, Bhutto kept Faheem on a short leash that severely limited his independent decision making. He was considered moderate but weak and probably would be subject to Zardari's behind-the-scenes manipulation. , Ahmad Mehmood Qureshi, Aitzaz Ahsan and Yousef Raza Gilani were other party leaders, but they are Punjabis who seemed to have little chance of leading this Sindh-based party.
The elections in February went along as planned and the Pakistani Parliament became filled with members of the opposition parties. Their success was in spite claims by independent observers from the United States and Europe that pro-Musharraf parties likely had serious benefits in terms of media exposure and permission to hold political rallies, suggesting serious dissatisfaction with the government of Pervez Musharraf. Musharraf called upon his opponents to form a coalition with his party, calls which were summarily rejected. The PPP, led by the late Benazir Bhutto's widower Asif Ali Zardari, looked to form a political alliance with Islamic parties who had fared poorly, despite fears that anti-Musharraf sentiment would promote Islamic radicalism in government.
In March 2008, Raza Gilani from the PPP was sworn in as Prime Minister. Gilani, a respected Bhutto loyalist who spent five years in jail for refusing to join "the King’s Party" in the aftermath of Musharraf’s coup, was hand-picked for the job by Asif Ali Zardari, Bhutto’s widower and the PPP's new co-chairman, together with his 19-year-old son, Bilawal Zardari Bhutto. Gilani swiftly announced that Pakistan would cease fighting "America’s war" in the region and called for immediate negotiations.
The Pakistani government at the time, led by a coalition of anti-Musharraf parties, politically moderate by Pakistani standard, was engaged primarily in discussions how to proceed with dealing with concerns in the tribal regions, the Taliban and other militant organizations, the future of US-Pakistani relations, and perhaps most importantly the fate of Musharraf. Reports in May 2008 suggested he was attempting to contact opposition politicians to strike an agreement that would allow him to continue as President but in a diminished capacity. The United States government continually reiterated that it intended to work to continue its regional policy goals with any Pakistani administration following the 2008 elections results, a major shift in rhetoric that had traditionally been strongly in favor of a continuation of the administration of Musharraf.
On 12 May 2008, Nawaz Sharif announced that the PML-N was leaving the government headed by the PPP, because of differences over the handling of supreme court justices sacked by President Musharraf during 2007. Sharif and PML-N advocated for the reinstatement of the justices with their previously held powers, while the PPP had been advocating a compromise between various political groups that would see their return, but with less authority than they had previously.
On 18 August 2008, under domestic political pressure from Pakistan's coalition government, Musharraf resigned from the presidency -- marking the end of an era. Musharraf, who seized control of the nuclear-capable state through a bloodless military coup in 1999, was considered a key ally in the U.S.-led war against terrorism since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States. But Musharraf's critics alleged that he was playing a kind of double game with the United States in the war on terrorism -- arresting some Al-Qaeda militants but giving sway to local militants with ties to the ISI intelligence service. Islamabad had consistently denied such allegations.
Several politicians emerged as possible successors to Musharraf, including the leader of the country's largest political party, the Pakistan People's Party, Asif Ali Zardari. Other political factions have named Zardari's sister or the current speaker of the National Assembly, who is also a woman. Minority partners in the coalition government have lobbied for prominent leaders from the volatile provinces of Balochistan or the North West Frontier.
On 25 August 2008 Pakistan's former prime minister Nawaz Sharif announced his Muslim League-N party is quitting the ruling coalition, putting the alliance at risk ahead of elections for the country's Presidency. He accused Asif Ali Zardari, the widower of slain leader Benazir Bhutto, of not honoring commitments to restore judges, sacked by President Pervez Musharraf when he imposed emergency in November last year.
On 06 September 2008 Asif Ali Zardari won an estimated 482 of the 702 votes from lawmakers to become what some believe will be Pakistan's most powerful civilian leader. Asif Ali Zardari won the majority of votes in three of the country's four provincial assemblies as well as in both houses of parliament. Zardari's win capped a remarkable political revival for a man who spent 11 years in prison on corruption and murder charges - without ever being convicted.
On 09 September 2008 Asif Ali Zardari, the widower of slain former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto, was sworn in as Pakistan's new president. After his inauguration Tuesday, President Zardari told reporters he is accepting the position in the name of his late wife and, in his words, "in the name of all martyrs of democracy." President Zardari replaced Pervez Musharraf who stepped down under pressure a month earlier. The 53-year-old Mr. Zardari inherited a list of pressing problems, including a troubled economy and international pressure to crack down on Islamic militants. Zardari's strong political support in the legislatures and Musharraf's expansion of presidential powers could make Zardari the country's most powerful civilian president. He had pledged to reign in the presidency's broad powers, which include the ability to dismiss parliament, but many Pakistanis are skeptical that he will follow through. After Zardari was elected by lawmakers as Pakistan's new president, Islamabad began to make changes to the ISI -- eventually closing the section tasked with domestic spying on Pakistani politicians.
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