In an article for Asia Times Online, its Pakistan bureau chief Syed Saleem Shahzad quotes analysts as saying that the incoming results from Pakistan's general elections on Monday show a landslide victory for opposition parties and a crushing defeat for President Pervez Musharraf and his allies. No single party has won an overall majority, and that means the formation of a coalition government is on the cards once the final votes are counted, says Shahzad.
"All the scripts of the pasts are now outdated and a new script will now be written in which the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and the Pakistan People's Party will be at the helm of national affairs in the future. The set-up will be without ... Pervez Musharraf. This is what Ms Benazir Bhutto used to call the 'revenge of democracy'," Professor Husain Haqqani, director of the International Relations Department at Boston University, told Asia Times Online by phone from Washington.
"In the end, Pakistanis voted against the arrogant Pakistani establishment," added Husain, a former diplomat and government minister who has spent many years in exile in the US.
The polls are showing clear defeats to many staunch supporters and close confidants of Musharraf, including former minister of defense Rao Sikandar Iqbal, former railways minister Sheikh Rashid, and Chaudhary Shujaat Hussain, president of the Pakistan Muslim League Quaid-i-Azam (PML-Q).
Former government minister Sherafghan Malik and former foreign minister Khurshid Mehmood Kasurii also lost their seats, as did the PML-Q's candidate for premiership, Chaudhary Pervaiz Illahi, who lost his seat in central Punjab. These defeats of longstanding PML-Q leaders, many of whom had previously argued against including the PPP in a unity government, could ease the advent of a coalition government.
In Pakistan's largest province of Punjab, which constitutes 55 percent of the total 272 seats in the national assembly, former premier Sharif's PML-N has come up with a miraculous showing. Despite Sharif and his brother Shahbaz Sharif being barred from campaigning ahead of the vote, early counts showed the PML-N winning the majority of seats.
"The Pakistani establishment did attempt to manipulate the results but this can only be successful when the difference is between five and six percent. The ratio of difference between the losers and winners was so big that the establishment didn't get a chance to manipulate the results," prominent analyst Dr Ijaz Shafi Gillani told a Pakistani talk show. Gillani, who is also chairman of Gallup Pakistan, had found evidence in a pre-election poll that suggested the two opposition parties would sweep to victory.
On the morning of election day, Musharraf issued a statement in which he pledged his willingness to work in a coalition capacity with the winner. Analysts have been skeptical of the viability of his offer.
The biggest upset occurred in the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), where voters reacted to the "Talibanization" of the region. The six-party religious alliance Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) which swept 2002 elections on the basis of anti-American sentiments following the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, was almost completely unseated by voters.
The secular Pashtun sub-nationalist party, the Awami National Party, appears set to win a majority of seats in the province with other winners being mostly liberal, secular or moderate. The lack of support for the MMA clearly shows a lack of faith in the religious alliance's ability to thwart "Talibanization".
In Sindh province, the pro-Musharraf Muttehida Quami Movement (MQM) has swept elections in the urban centers but the rural areas have been won by the PPP. The day before the vote, the MQM changed its position on coalition governance and one of its top leaders, Dr Farooq Sattar, announced that his party is ready to work with PPP. In response, PPP Co-Chairman Asif Zardari said he would be open to working with the MQM as coalition partners.
"Whatever the results are, holding fair and free elections is a victory of the system. Especially against the militants who were aiming to sabotage the electoral process. However, I would call it the first stage of victory and not the final one. Of course, the challenge of militancy remains in Pakistan and now we have to deal with them with lot of caution," former minister of interior Aftab Sherpao told Asia Times Online after the elections.
Analysts claim that this year's election results clearly reflect popular sentiment in Pakistan. Contrary to past elections, family-based patronage, personal charisma, money and influence did not sway voters who instead voted along party lines and for political platforms.
The Pakistani establishment had no doubt read the writing on the electoral wall. Throughout the elections government leaders kept low profiles, often hiding themselves behind the curtains of power as they have been known to do in when faced with true democracy.