Mandate against Musharraf: PPP- PML-N coalition on cards

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Islamabad, Feb 19 (UNI) In a mandate against army rule, Pakistan today returned a Parliament hostile to President Pervez Musharraf, handing the keys of a fractured House to his bitter foes, the PPP and the PML-N, to form a coalition government.

President Musharraf's worst fears were realised with the PPP and the PML-N marching ahead in the polls although neither party could gain an absolute majority. The PPP rode the sympathy wave which swept the nation after the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto to emerge as the single largest party in the national assembly with 87 seats.

Former premier Nawaz Sharif's PML-N took second honours with 66 seats while the PML-Q or the King's party, loyal to the President, trailed at third place with 38 seats.

After the results poured out, Mr Sharif said the people's verdict was that President Musharraf had to go.

''I appreciate the spirit of the people, they have given a verdict,'' Mr Sharif, who was ousted from power by Gen Musharraf in a bloodless coup in October 1999, told reporters in Lahore.

''Mr Musharraf had closed his eyes...He used to say when people want, I will go. Today the people have said what they want,'' he added. Mr Sharif said he also planned to meet PPP co-chairperson Asif Ali Zardari and was looking forward to working with all democratic forces.

The 64-year-old former Army General faces possible impeachment if the new government is formed by his bete noire Nawaz Sharif.

Striking a conciliatory note after casting his vote yesterday, President Musharraf had said he was ready to work with any party and called for ''politics of reconciliation''.

Of the 259 results available so far out of 269 for which polling was held, the MQM had 19, ANP 10, MMA 3, PML-F 4, NPP 2, BNP-A 1 and PPP-S 1. Independent candidates bagged 27 seats.

The Election Commission (EC) would announce the complete official results of the general elections this week and issue the notification on February 21 or 22, paving the way for the formation of the new government before March one, Geo TV reported, quoting EC sources.

Many stalwarts crashed to the ground with two PML-Q prime ministerial candidates-- PML-Q chief Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain and Punjab Chief Minister Chaudhry Pervez Elahi-- losing from their respective constituencies.

Other prominent leaders who were defeated included former Railway Minister Sheikh Rashid, former National Assembly Speaker Chaudhry Amir Hussain, former Foreign Minister Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri and MMA chief Maulana Fazlur Rahman.

Elections were held for 269 of the 272 seats in the National Assembly yesterday.

Another 70 seats in the 342-member strong National Assembly are reserved for non-Muslims (10) and women (60), which are allocated to parties according to the votes they poll.

Polls were also simultaneously held for the four provincial assemblies of Punjab, Sindh, Balochistan and North West Frontier Province.

Benazir's party won the maximum 65 seats in its stronghold of Sindh. The party got 78 seats in Punjab, seven in Balochistan and 17 in NWFP.

As expected, the PML-N got the highest 101 seats in its citadel of Punjab and five in NWFP. The party is yet to win a seat in Sindh and Balochistan.

The PML-Q, which probably paid for its proximity to the beleaguered former military ruler, was doing comparatively better in provinces having won 66 seats in Punjab, nine in Sindh, 17 in Balochistan and six in NWFP.

The MQM, which might play a crucial role in government formation with no party getting an absolute majority, has won 38 seats in Sindh but was yet to register a win in the other provinces.

The ANP has won the highest 31 seats in NWFP while the party got two seats in Sindh and one in Balochistan.

The MMA got six seats in Balochistan, nine in NWFP and two in Punjab.

A low voter turnout of 35 per cent was recorded in polling yesterday amid heightened fears of violence. At least eleven people were killed in sporadic poll-related violence. Counting for the elections began nearly as soon polling closed at 1700 hrs.

President Musharraf had expressed satisfaction that the polls were completed in a ''free, fair and transparent'' manner as ''promised'' by him.

MQM chief Altaf Hussain expressed his willingness to have a dialogue with either of the two main opposition parties to form a coalition government.

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