Pakistanis dealt a crushing defeat to President Pervez Musharraf in parliamentary elections Monday, in what government and opposition politicians said was a firm rejection of his policies since 2001 and those of his close ally, the United States.
Almost all the leading figures in the Pakistan Muslim League-Q, the party that has governed for the last five years under Musharraf, lost their seats, including the leader of the party, the former speaker of Parliament and six ministers.
Official results are expected today, but early returns indicated that the vote would usher in a prime minister from one of the opposition parties, and opened the prospect of a Parliament that would move to undo many of Musharraf's policies and that may even try to remove him.
The early edge went to the opposition Pakistan People's Party, which seemed to benefit from a strong wave of sympathy in reaction to the assassination of its leader, Benazir Bhutto, on Dec. 27, and may be in a position to form the next government.
The results were interpreted here as a repudiation of Musharraf as well as the Bush administration, which has staunchly backed Musharraf for more than six years as its best bet in the campaign against the Islamic militants in Pakistan.
Politicians and party workers from Musharraf's party said the vote was a protest against government policies and the rise in terrorism here, in particular against Musharraf's heavy-handed way of dealing with militants and his use of the army against tribesmen in the border areas, and against militants in a siege at the Red Mosque here in the capital last summer that left more than 100 people dead.
Others said Musharraf's dismissal last year of the Supreme Court chief justice, Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, who remains under house arrest, was deeply unpopular with the voters.
Musharraf, who stepped down as army chief last November after being re-elected to another five-year term as president, has seen his standing plummet. The two main opposition parties - the Pakistan People's Party and the Pakistan Muslim League-N of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif - surged into the gap.
From unofficial results the private news channel, Aaj Television, forecast that the Pakistan People's Party would win 110 seats in the 272-seat National Assembly, with Sharif's party taking 100 seats.
Musharraf's party was crushed, holding on to just 20 to 30 seats. Early results released by the state news agency, the Associated Press of Pakistan, also showed the Pakistan People's Party to be leading in the number of seats won.
The Election Commission of Pakistan declared the elections free and fair and said the polling passed relatively peacefully. Ten people were killed and 70 injured, news channels reported.
Fearful of violence and deterred by confusion at polling stations, voters did not turn out in large numbers. Yet fears from opposition parties that the government would try to rig the elections did not materialize.