In a blow to US-backed dictators the world over, voters in Pakistan have decisively rejected the country’s president Pervez Musharraf and his crackdown on the county’s democratic institutions.
As Socialist Worker went to press it was clear that Musharraf’s PML-Q party faced utter humiliation, having won only 38 of 258 national assembly seats that had been declared so far.
The PML-Q president Shujaat Hussain and the speaker of the national assembly Chaudhry Amir Hussain were among six ministers who have lost their seats. Musharraf’s allies in the conservative Muslim parties also fared badly.
The main beneficiaries of the anti-Musharraf mood have been the late Benazir Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), which by Tuesday afternoon had won 87 seats, and Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (PML‑N), which had picked up 66.
It is now likely that these two parties will form a coalition government involving the many smaller parties. This government could instigate impeachment proceedings againt Musharraf.
Millions of people in Pakistan will rejoice at the end of Musharraf’s power. Last year he declared a state of emergency to crackdown on a democracy movement led by lawyers, judges and journalists.
Hundreds of judges were removed for daring to question whether the head of the military could also be president.
Thousands of protesting lawyers and civil rights activists were rounded up. The military patrolled the streets to block demonstrations and the press was muzzled and censored.
The new democracy movement has tapped into growing anger at how Pakistan is being used by the US to fight as a proxy in its “war on terror” along the country’s border with Afghanistan.
At George Bush’s request more than 120,000 Pakistani troops are engaged in fierce fighting with the tribal Pashtun people and others who sympathise with the Taliban.
Musharraf even gave the US permission to fire missiles on Pakistani villages where “suspected militants” were based. The result has been a war that is spilling out from the border areas of North West Frontier Province and Waziristan into major cities like Peshawar.
The protests for democracy have given hope to millions of people in Pakistan who have suffered from the long years of neoliberal economic policies.
They have endured huge rises in the price of basic goods, growing unemployment and widening inequality.
But neither the PPP nor the PML-N have any policies that address these hopes and fears.
Both are committed to remaining staunch allies of the US. Both support the neoliberal economic policies that have enriched them and a tiny circle of their supporters.
The policy of privatising state assets at rock bottom prices – another boon to the rich – is also set to continue.
Many mainstream commentators have blamed the low turnout in the elections upon the possibility of violence driving away potential voters.
But few have registered the obvious fact that millions of Pakistanis are sick of poverty, war and the corrupt political parties that have plundered the country.
It remains to be seen whether those voices will reassert themselves on the streets in the months ahead.