WASHINGTON – The Bush administration said Tuesday it expects to work alongside whatever new government is formed in Pakistan, where a key ally has conceded defeat in parliamentary elections and would be forced to share power if he remains in office.
The State Department also said it hopes the new government will cooperate with President Pervez Musharraf, although a spokesman said the United States is not trying to tell anyone what to do.
"Ultimately President Musharraf is still the president of Pakistan and certainly we would hope that whoever becomes prime minister and whoever winds up in charge of the new government would be able to work with him and with all other factions," State Department spokesman Tom Casey said.
Casey said opposition parties that did well in Monday's voting are, like Musharraf, pledged to fighting terrorism and promoting democracy.
"We want to work with the new government, we expect we can work with the new government, and have good cooperation with them," Casey said. "We've maintained ties to all the major political parties both before and during this electoral period and certainly expect to do so afterward as well."
The United States held off on a definitive assessment of the voting until final results are in, but the State Department said it welcomed the largely peaceful election and called it a step toward restoring democracy in the key U.S. anti-terror ally.
The voting was postponed from January after the assassination of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto. Musharraf's ruling party acknowledged defeat even before the final results were in and said it will "sit on opposition benches" in parliament.
The results cast doubt on the political future of Musharraf, who was re-elected to a five-year term last October in an election that opponents called rigged. With the support of smaller groups and independent candidates, the opposition could gain the two-thirds majority in parliament needed to impeach the president.
Musharraf has promised to work with whatever government emerges from the election, and he could stay on with limited powers. The former general is hugely unpopular among the public and opposition parties that have been catapulted into power may find little reason to work with him — particularly because at U.S. urging he gave up his dual role heading the powerful army.
Sen. Joseph Biden, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and one of several U.S. lawmakers who traveled to Islamabad to observe the election, said Tuesday the results mean the United States can shift its Pakistan policy.
"This is an opportunity for us to move from a policy that has been focused on a personality to one based on an entire people," Biden said, adding that Washington should help democracy take deeper root in Pakistan.
Traveling with President Bush in Africa, White House press secretary Dana Perino said it was important that the election instill confidence among the Pakistani people.
"For many weeks, almost months now, since the announcement that there would be elections on Feb. 18th, what we have encouraged is for people to be able to express their vote freely, and for this election to inspire confidence in people about their government," she said in Kigali, Rwanda.