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US Welcomes Pakistan Elections - 2002-10-11

The United States has welcomed Pakistan's elections as an important step toward the restoration of full democracy there. U.S. officials say they think Pakistani politics are on a moderate course despite the strong election showing of Islamic fundamentalist parties.

Bush administration officials are expressing satisfaction with the way the vote was conducted and are professing not to be overly-concerned by the gains made by an Islamic coalition, whose candidates campaigned against President Pervez Musharraf and his support for the U.S.-led war on terror.

At a briefing here, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said initial reports from U.S. diplomats and others who monitored the voting are that Thursday's election proceeded in a "relatively free and orderly fashion."

He said if those assessments hold up, the United States will accept the results of the polling as a "credible representation" of Pakistani opinion, and he called the vote an "important milestone" in the country's ongoing transition to democracy.

Mr. Boucher had no detailed reaction to the still-incomplete results of the voting, which will leave a divided parliament with no single party holding a clear majority. But he did suggest that the dramatic gains of the Islamic parties do not mean a radical shift in the country's overall political course.

"There is an alliance of six religious parties who did quite well in Baluchistan and in the Northwest Frontier province," he said. "It will be one of several parties in the parliament. We think that the Pakistani people and the government have already demonstrated their strong opposition to terrorism and extremism, and their desire to move their society in a more moderate and stable direction. We certainly welcome that. We look forward to working with them on that, and we hope that all the parties will be committed to moving in that direction."

Mr. Boucher said in the wake of the election, the Musharraf government and the various party leaders now have a "joint responsibility" to ensure a smooth transition to a sustainable form of democratic and civilian rules.

He said the next crucial step is the transfer of power to the new National Assembly and to establish its role, and he said the United States welcomes Mr. Musharraf's expressed intention to hand over executive authority to a new prime minister early next month.

Mr. Musharraf, who seized power in a military coup in 1999, will retain the presidency though he says the new prime minister will run the day-to-day affairs of government. Critics say he has manipulated the constitutional process to ensure a dominant role for the military in the government.