The NewsFuror

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Musharraf rules out resignation

Nawaz Sharif
The party of Nawaz Sharif (centre) is in second place
Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, says he has no plans to resign, despite a sweeping victory by the opposition in the country's parliamentary elections.

Speaking to the Wall Street Journal, Mr Musharraf said there was a need to move forward to help bring about a stable democratic government in Pakistan.

Meanwhile the party of late former PM Benazir Bhutto says it is ready to form a coalition with Nawaz Sharif's PML-N.

The main party backing President Musharraf suffered a heavy defeat.

A union of Ms Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party (PPP) with the PML-N of another former PM, Nawaz Sharif, would have more than half parliament's seats.

The president's position has never looked more precarious, the BBC's Chris Morris in Islamabad says.

If a new governing coalition manages to muster a two-thirds majority in parliament, it could call for Mr Musharraf to be impeached.

PPP (Bhutto's party) : 87
PML-N (Nawaz Sharif): 66
PML-Q: (pro-Musharraf) 39
MQM (Sindh-based): 19
ANP (Secular Pashtuns): 10
MMA (Islamic alliance): 3
Others: 34
Source: Election commission

But Mr Musharraf said that he would try to work with any new government.

"I would like to function with any party and any coalition because that is in the interest of Pakistan," he told the Wall Street Journal.

"The clash would be if the prime minister and president would be trying to get rid of each other. I only hope we would avoid these clashes," the president added.

Mr Musharraf was re-elected to the presidency last October, in a vote boycotted by the opposition as unconstitutional.

He has been a major US ally in the "war on terror" but his popularity has waned at home amid accusations of authoritarianism and incompetence.

The US State Department described Monday's election as a "step toward the full restoration of democracy".

'End of dictatorship'

At a press conference on Tuesday, Ms Bhutto's widower and the PPP leader, Asif Ali Zardari, said his party would "form a government of national consensus which will take along every democratic force".

"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," he said, seemingly ruling out any coalition with the Pakistan Muslim League's pro-Musharraf wing, the PML-Q.

With votes counted in 258 out of 272 constituencies, the PPP has won 87 seats, according to the Election Commission of Pakistan.

PPP leader Asif Ali Zardari
PPP leader Asif Ali Zardari invited Mr Sharif to join a coalition

The PML-N, or Pakistani Muslim League-Nawaz, is in second place with 66 seats so far.

Mr Sharif said earlier on Tuesday that he was prepared to discuss joining a coalition with Mr Zardari's party in order "to rid Pakistan of dictatorship forever".

The two parties so far have a combined total of 153 seats in the 272-seat parliament.

President Pervez Musharraf main parliamentary ally, the PML-Q, has already admitted defeat.

The party has come a distant third, with 39 seats so far.

PML-Q chairman, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, told Associated Press Television News his party accepted the results "with an open heart" and was prepared to "sit on opposition benches".

Mr Musharraf, who seized power in a bloodless coup in 1999, stepped down as army chief last year, at the urging of his foreign allies.

The parliamentary election has been seen as a key milestone in Pakistan's transition from military to civilian rule.

The election was preceded by months of violence, including the suicide attack that killed PPP leader, Ms Bhutto, in December.

The poll was initially scheduled for early January but was delayed after her assassination.

Pakistan's military has been trying to contain a Taleban-influenced Islamist insurgency along the country's rugged frontier with Afghanistan.

Obama extends lead over Clinton

Barack Obama at a rally in Houston, Texas, 19 Feb 2008
Barack Obama is riding a wave of momentum after a series of wins

Barack Obama has gained more ground over his rival, Hillary Clinton, in the contest to win the Democratic nomination to run for US president.

Mr Obama, the senator for Illinois, has won the primary in Wisconsin, and is also projected to take victory in Hawaii - his 10th win in a row.

John McCain won Wisconsin for the Republicans, boosting his front-runner status in his party's contest.

Mr McCain is also projected to win a Republican primary in Washington state.

With 99% of the ballots counted in Wisconsin, Mr Obama had 58% of the vote to Mrs Clinton's 41%.

The state has 74 Democratic delegates at stake. The Associated Press news agency said Mr Obama was projected to win at least 38 of them, and Mrs Clinton 27, with nine still to be awarded.

Meanwhile, with 51% of votes counted in Hawaii, where the Illinois senator was born, he had taken 76% of the vote, leading AP and CNN to project victory.

The state has 20 delegates up for grabs.

Seeking momentum

The BBC's Jonathan Beale says Wisconsin was a significant victory for Mr Obama, eating into Mrs Clinton's support base.

It is a major disappointment for Mrs Clinton, the senator for New York, who had been hoping to restore momentum to her campaign.



Hillary ClintonHillary Clinton
13 states, 1,218 delegates
Arizona, Arkansas, California, Florida, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Tennessee
Barack ObamaBarack Obama
21 states, 1,281 delegates
Alabama, Alaska, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Carolina, Utah, Virginia, Washington state, Wisconsin
2,025 delegates needed for nomination. Source AP (includes all kinds of delegates)
Mike HuckabeeMike Huckabee
8 states, 245 delegates
Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Iowa, Tennessee, West Virginia, Kansas, Louisiana
John McCainJohn McCain
15 states, 903 delegates
Arizona, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Virginia, Washington state
Mitt RomneyMitt Romney
11 states, 253 delegates
Campaign suspended
Alaska, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Wyoming, Utah
1,191 delegates needed for nomination. Source: AP (includes all kinds of delegates)

Instead, Mr Obama was reported to have gained almost equal support from white women, and to have polled well from working-class Democrats - both groups which have usually supported Mrs Clinton.

Mr Obama also took the youth vote and six out of 10 self-described independent voters, according to exit polls for ABC.

But he and Mrs Clinton are already looking ahead to March's bigger contests in Ohio and Texas, seen by analysts as crucial to her credibility as a candidate.

Speaking at a victory rally in Houston, Texas, Mr Obama said: "The change we seek is still months and miles away and we need to get all of Texas to help us get there."

Addressing a rally in Youngstown, Ohio, Mrs Clinton said the primary campaign was "about picking a president who relies not just on words but on work - hard work to get America back to work".

Before the results from Wisconsin were calculated, Mr Obama held a slight lead over Mrs Clinton, with 1,280 delegates to her 1,218.

It will take 2,025 delegates to secure the Democratic nomination at the party's national convention this summer.

McCain favourite

Mr McCain, the senator for Arizona, appeared to target Mr Obama in his victory speech as he promised to ensure Americans were "not deceived by an eloquent but empty call for change".

On the Republican side, the race between Mr McCain and Mike Huckabee, a former Arkansas governor, continues.

Clearing snow outside a polling point Hortonville, Wisconsin

Mr McCain now has almost four times as many delegates as his main rival, Mike Huckabee.

With 97% of the vote counted in Wisconsin, he led with 54.8% of the vote compared with 37% for Mr Huckabee and 5% for Texas Congressman Ron Paul. There are 40 Republican delegates at stake.

Early exit polls for AP suggested Mr McCain had made headway with some core Republican voters, beating Mr Huckabee overwhelmingly for the support of moderate Republicans.

The Washington Republican primary is the second vote in a two-part nominating contest - half their delegates were decided earlier in a caucus on 9 February, which was narrowly won by Mr McCain.

With 53% of Tuesday's vote counted, Mr McCain had amassed 48% to Mr Huckabee's 21% and Mr Paul's 7%.

Washington state's Democrats are also holding a primary but their delegates to the party's summer nominating convention have already been chosen on the basis of caucuses.