Pakistan Election: Pakistan's Progress:
10, 2007 - After eight years as a military dictator,
Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf last
week brokered a tentative power-sharing arrangement with
former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto,
courted political moderates at home, and pledged to swap
his uniform for civilian clothes. On Saturday he was re-elected
to another five-year term.
is a long way from 1999, when the general seized power
in a military coup. There are still hurdles on the road
to democracy, but the trend is encouraging. Mr.
Musharraf's recent moves come after a series
of political missteps earlier this year. His firing of
the Supreme Court chief justice (who was later reinstated)
angered the country's middle class, emboldened religious
extremists and weakened his grip on power.
his popularity slid, Mr. Musharraf was
faced with two choices: consolidating his power through
martial law, or a democratic transition, which offers
the hope of a more stable political base. He chose the
latter, at the risk of alienating his own party, the Muslim
League (Q) and, more important, the ever-powerful army.
In the run-up to Saturday's presidential vote, Mr.
Musharraf courted moderates even as the opposition
parties threatened a boycott. He corralled the religious
vote, too: In the North West Frontier province, he persuaded
the ruling local coalition of Islamic parties to back
him. He won despite a wholesale abstention by Ms.
Bhutto's People's Party.
the same time, Mr. Musharraf has also
taken steps to assure Ms. Bhutto that
he's serious about a power-sharing deal after parliamentary
elections early next year. He signed an amnesty last week,
dropping the corruption charges against her and paving
the way for her return later this month to Karachi, where
she plans to stand for election. There's also self-interest
at work here: Ms. Bhutto's political
rival, Nawaz Sharif, is also seen as
a stronger rival to Mr. Musharraf. Still
exiled in Saudi Arabia, Mr. Sharif isn't
being offered a deal.
next stage in the political transition rests with the
Supreme Court, which has yet to rule on the constitutionality
of the presidential election. In a bizarre decision, the
court said the election could go forward but postponed
ruling on Mr. Musharraf's eligibility
for presidential office until after the vote. If the judges
invalidate his victory, the political upheaval could be
messy. A better outcome would be to allow the election
to stand in exchange for conditions that ensure Mr.
Musharraf will follow through on his promise
for civilian rule.
any case, the essential next test for Mr. Musharraf
is whether he will give up his military commission. He's
reneged on this pledge in the past. One indication that
he means it this time is that he's already named his successor,
General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, a close
ally who is friendly to the West.
Bush is often rebuked for supporting Mr. Musharraf,
often by the same people who deride Mr. Bush's democracy
promotion elsewhere. But Washington has been nudging the
general toward a political compromise with the secular
opposition and the restoration of democracy. The last
thing the U.S. wants is to further destabilize a nuclear-armed
government threatened by Muslim extremists. Mr.
Musharraf is moving in the right direction, and
the U.S. can help to keep him moving.
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