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Pakistani President Calls for 'Harmonious Coalition' Following Opposition Election Wins

Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf is calling for a "harmonious coalition" in the new national assembly, which is now dominated by opposition parties. VOA's Barry Newhouse reports from Islamabad that Mr. Musharraf's plea for unity follows opposition calls for him to step down.

In his most extensive comments on the election since his party was soundly defeated, President Musharraf praised the gains of opposition parties, saying the results strengthened moderate forces in Pakistan.

But while the president has issued several conciliatory statements calling for unity in the new government, opposition leaders and even members of his own party predict a coming political clash.

Sheikh Rashid Ahmad is an ally of Mr. Musharraf who after winning election to parliament six times since 1985, suffered his first defeat on Monday. Speaking at a news conference in Islamabad, Rashid Ahmad suggested the incoming assembly's tenure could be the shortest in Pakistan's history.

"I have said already that President Musharraf wants to continue with this parliament.," said Ahmad. "But there are some people who don't want to do this. What will be the result? I don't know."

Lawmakers could try to impeach the president, but Mr. Musharraf also has power to dismiss parliament. Either scenario would throw the country's politics back into turmoil.

Meanwhile, election observers raised concerns about the fairness of the vote. European Union observers said pro-Musharraf parties unfairly benefited during election campaigning.

American observers also had concerns about the bans of election rallies and the crackdown on the news media.

"The pre-election situation made it extremely difficult but we think the Pakistani people showed they are absolutely determined to express themselves and we think on Election Day, they were able to do that," said Jim Moody, an election monitor and former U.S. congressman.

U.S. Senator John Kerry, who spoke to reporters in New Delhi after visiting Islamabad earlier in the week, said despite problems before the polls, Mr. Musharraf had gracefully accepted his party's defeat in the vote.

"Imperfect as it was, it nevertheless produced a result that is credible and has held his government accountable," said Kerry.

Final results in the national assembly election are still not in. The Pakistan People's Party is in the lead with some 87 seats followed by Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League with 66 seats. Mr. Musharraf's party is in third with 38 seats. Most of the remainder of the 268 contested seats are held by smaller parties or independent candidates.