NEW YORK — The American print and electronic media on Saturday highlighted Pakistan’s first democratic transition, with one leading newspaper calling the development a ‘political victory’ for President Asif Ali Zardari.
"The action was a first in a country, where the powerful military has regularly ousted civilian governments, either directly through coups or indirectly through constitutional maneuvers, and it offered hope that the parliamentary system was maturing," The New York Times said in a dispatch from Islamabad.
"Still, a faltering economy and widespread militant violence have left many Pakistanis grumbling about the lack of tangible dividends from democracy, and the governing Pakistan People’s Party, whose performance has been widely criticised, will face a strong challenge from the opposition leader, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif," correspondent Declan Walsh wrote.
"A peaceful transfer of power to a new government would be a political victory of sorts for President Asif Ali Zardari, the PPP co-chairman, who has confounded regular predictions of the demise of his government over the past five years. A good showing by his party in the election may help him win re-election when his term expires next September."
The dispatch described as a ‘crucial development’ the army chief, Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, statement that he fully supports the elections, saying there are few indications that the military is backing any one party. “The military is apparently standing aloof and letting the battle be fought among politicians, which is a rare thing and a healthy one,” Ahmed Bilal Mehboob, of the Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency, was quoted as saying.
The often stormy relationship between Pakistan and the United States has been relatively placid in recent months, although widespread public hostility toward Washington may be mobilised for political gain, the dispatch said.
Last week, Zardari and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran held a ceremony to commemorate the start of construction in Pakistan of a gas pipeline between the two countries, which has been bitterly opposed by the Obama administration and could, if completed, lead to economic sanctions against Pakistan.
Analysts, however, say the pipeline will take years to complete, and the ceremony may have been dictated by political considerations, according the Times.
"The political system last week was gripped by speculation about the identity of the caretaker prime minister, who will lead an interim administration in the prelude to the elections," it said.
The Wall Street Journal, citing analysts, said, "The precedent of a civilian government completing its term, and possibly peacefully handing over power to the opposition, should strengthen Pakistan's democracy—and, in the long term, weaken the military's role.” "The longer democracy institutionalises, the more bold politicians can be in trying to wrest power away from the army," Christine Fair, a professor at Georgetown University's Security Studies Programme was quoted as saying. "We're all vested in this election going off freely, fairly and maximizing voter turnout, so whatever government emerges is going to be maximally legitimate. And that's exactly the thing that the army fears.”