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Pakistanis Indifferent to Tenuous Musharraf Victory

Pakistan's military ruler Gen. Pervez Musharraf won an election Saturday, but it's unknown whether he'll get to keep the job. Pakistan's Supreme Court says the results are not final until it has decided whether Musharraf's candidacy was legal. Musharraf's supporters are celebrating but their euphoria wasn't shared on the streets.

The fact that an election was going on – an election that is of critical importance to Pakistan and the world — was a matter of complete indifference to Khalil Ahmed. He was more concerned with selling pots and pans Saturday than the events under way in Pakistan's parliament just a few miles away from his store.

This is not because Khalil is ignorant of politics; quite the opposite.

You don't have to talk to him long to discover that he has considerable knowledge of these things. It's just that the election was all a foregone conclusion, he explained. It had nothing to do with people like him.

"It doesn't matter if I'm interested or not interested because this is all done," he said.

Khalil wasn't the only one ignoring the election. While members of Pakistan's national and provincial legislatures were voting — or not — most of the opposition abstained or boycotted the poll.

Dr. Masjik Munir went to the market with his wife and children. He said he's tired of politicians of almost every kind.

"We want someone who is more representative of the people, who's not dictated by any foreign power," Masjik says. "...For the last 60 years, the same political parties, the same families of political parties, are coming. And we know what they are doing."

As Musharraf frantically maneuvered to retain power, the legal community, opposition parties and the media were all in the thick of it. But the Pakistani people never involved themselves in the political crisis that has engulfed Pakistan in the last few months.

True, very large crowds turned out on several occasions when Pakistan's now reinstated chief justice was traveling the country, protesting Musharraf's attempt to sack him. But the masses mostly stayed out of it, worried about more immediate concerns, like sharply rising food prices.

So it was again Saturday.

There were celebrations after Musharraf swept the presidential election, with fireworks lighting up the skies of Islamabad, but most people ignored the festivities, leaving them to be enjoyed by Musharraf and his loyalists.

But there is one institution that does seem to matter to Pakistan's people these days: The Supreme Court. It has ruled that the winner of today's election won't be officially announced until its judges have finished examining petitions alleging that it's illegal for Musharraf to stand, a process that will take days.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Philip Reeves
Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.