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Pakistani Leader’s Allies Victorious In Elections for Local Government<P>By Salman Masood THE NEW YORK TIMES <P>ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN <P>

Pakistani Leader’s Allies Victorious

In Elections for Local Government

By Salman Masood


Allies of Pakistan’s president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, scored major gains in the first two rounds of local government elections, a development likely to further consolidate Musharraf’s grip on power ahead of the general elections scheduled for 2007, political analysts say.

Candidates supported by the Pakistan Muslim League, a party allied to Musharraf, swept the polls in the first rounds of voting on Aug. 18 and Aug. 25 across Pakistan. The third round, which had been scheduled for Sept. 29, was postponed this week until Oct. 6.

Musharraf last week hailed the electoral success of his supporters as a victory for “moderates and defeat for extremists,” but opposition parties denounced the elections as rigged, and vowed to organize a protest campaign.

At least 40 people were killed and more than 550 wounded in clashes between rival political groups during the first two phases of voting, according to reports in the Pakistan news media. According to official results, voter turnout was 48.7 percent.

The balloting is part of a new system introduced by Musharraf in 2001. The August voting, held in 110 districts, was for the posts of councilors who will, in the third round, choose district nazims, positions roughly equivalent to mayors in the United States. The success of government-allied candidates so far ensures a majority of nazims will be supporters of Musharraf.

The nazims wield significant power in their districts, and their support could play a decisive role in the 2007 elections when Musharraf is expected to run for president as a civilian. Since coming to power after a coup in 1999, Musharraf has continued as the chief of the country’s powerful military.

The military has ruled Pakistan for more than half of its history, and the periods of civilian government have been tainted with corruption and mismanagement.

“The importance of the local-body elections is significant as they are seen as paving the way for the higher elections putting in place the local level bigwigs, the little big men who would then deliver,” said Mohammad Waseem, director of the department of international relations at Quaid-e-Azam University in Islamabad.

Controversy surrounded the local elections from the outset. The government had declared that the elections would not be party-based, but political parties openly supported particular candidates anyway.

Furthermore, in many conservative areas of North-West Frontier Province women were not allowed to vote, spurring criticism from human rights activists. Opponents of Musharraf and the Pakistan Muslim League questioned the independence and impartiality of the Election Commission, which was headed by a judge temporarily appointed by the president for the job.

“The credibility of the Election Commission has been seriously undermined,” said Farhatullah Babar, a senator from the opposition Pakistan Peoples’ Party. “If there is one important lesson of the local-body elections, it is the Election Commission must be thoroughly overhauled.”