Opposition leaders in Pakistan said today they hope to form a new coalition government after preliminary results from parliamentary elections show the party of pro U.S. President Pervez Musharraf will lose control of the National Assembly.
Musharraf's Pakistan Muslim League-Q has already conceded defeat.
"Obviously, the nation has spoken through the ballot," said Tariq Azim Khan, spokesman for the PML-Q.
"We couldn't convince them. They have rejected our policies and we have accepted their verdict," Khan told Reuters.
Official tallies may not be released by the government for another day or two, but it's clear that while no party will win a majority, most of the 261 national assembly seats up for grabs were captured by the two leading opposition parties, the Pakistan People's Party, headed by Asif Ali Zardari, the husband of slain former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, and the Peoples Muslim League-N, led by ex-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who Musharraf exiled in a 1999 coup.
But what kind of alliance will ultimately form the new government was not immediately clear. Nor was it clear whether Musharraf, a Bush administration ally, would be part of it.
Zardari said today at a news conference that he hoped that a coalition government could be formed without the participation of Musharraf's PML-Q. "As the largest political force of the country, we demand that we be allowed to make the government," he said in Islamabad, Reuters reported. "For now, the decision of the party is that we are not interested in any of those people who are part and parcel of the last government," Zardari said.
The White House has not yet officially commented on the elections, State Department Deputy Spokesperson Tom Casey said they are awaiting the official results. But Casey did say that "it's certainly clear that Pakistan has taken a step towards full restoration of democracy. This is something we have wanted for some time."
Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., one of several American lawmakers who came here to monitor the election, met with the president and told reporters Musharraf was "completely accepting" of the election.
On the streets, most people we encountered were happy with the results.
"We don't think our state represents the people of this country anymore," one woman said, as she demonstrated for change
Other voters also seemed exhausted with Musharraf.
"When the people do not like you why are you sitting in the chair?" asked one man.
"This is democracy, not dictatorship."
Despite fears of violence and vote-rigging, many Pakistanis voted, although in fewer numbers than for previous elections, but so far, citizens and the political parties appear willing to accept the results.
Pakistan "fulfilled its promise of holding free and fair elections," a government minister told the state-run media.
As Pakistan's Daily Times announced "All the King's Men Are Gone," if Musharraf continues as president, it will be in a debilitated form, without many of his supporters, several of whom were voted out Monday.
Another U.S. observer, Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., said at a news conference here that the United States should change its Pakistan policy from one "based on a person to one which is for an entire people." He called on the United States to triple its nonmilitary assistance.
The United States has provided about $10 billion to Pakistan's military to help fight extremist since the war on terror began in 2002. But militant activity has increased in the last year, said a Western military official who spoke to ABC news on the condition of anonymity.
This same official said that if fighting terrorism was truly a priority for the Musharraf government, "there were assets they could have committed that they chose not to."
Analysts here say they expect the new parliament to take a less aggressive approach to combating terrorism, preferring to negotiate with the tribal chiefs in northwestern Pakistan.
Musharraf's policy of sending Pakistani troops in to fight these militants, essentially pitching Pakistani against Pakistani, has not proved popular.
"They would be more political," said retired Gen. Talat Masood. "There would be a greater dialogue. You can't win this war without the support of the people. Today the war on terror is being fought with great indifference."