Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Pakistan's Step toward Democracy under Military Rule ; on Sunday, Pakistanis Took the First Step in Electing Candidates for Local Bodies

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Pakistan's Step toward Democracy under Military Rule ; on Sunday, Pakistanis Took the First Step in Electing Candidates for Local Bodies

Article excerpt

Abid Khan had more on his mind this week than the defeat of his favorite candidate in Sunday's local elections in Pakistan.

"My friend lost in this election, but if the new system works better for Pakistan, I would be happy to support that," says Mr. Khan, who voted in Sargodha, one of 18 districts where elections were held giving Pakistanis their first taste of democracy under military ruler Gen. Pervez Musharraf.

The Lahore bus driver says the elections may finally create a new political order that would improve the workings of the country's political institutions.

By recognizing the victory of a candidate other than his friend, Khan was breaking ranks from Pakistan's tradition of bitterly divisive elections.

He is just one of the approximately 9 million Pakistanis who were registered to vote this week.

If the country sees more political stability in the future, Pakistanis such as Khan would be willing to be more supportive of General Musharraf's political reforms, analysts say. But critics argue that the elections - where political parties have been sidelined - are yet another attempt by the military to consolidate its power.

"These elections are meant to bring in a new era, but the dilemma for the government is that the new order may not come about that easily," says Rashed Rehman, a prominent political-affairs columnist. "This is a military government whose own credibility by virtue of being a military regime, is questionable."

Mr. Rehman says the reform plan would eventually be overtaken by mainstream political parties, especially if they increasingly agitate against the military regime in the coming months.

The elections are the first step in the general's so-called "devolution of power" plan - a reference to reforming the political system by devolving power to the grass roots.

The interest in the elections fell short of expectations, with unofficial counts putting the voter turnout between 30 to 40 percent. …

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