President Bush said Wednesday that he hoped the sweeping defeat of Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf's party in parliamentary elections won't end the Islamic nation's cooperation in fighting radical extremists.
Musharraf was not on the ballot, but the election was widely seen as a referendum on his eight-year rule — including his alliance with the United States in the war against terrorist groups that many Pakistanis oppose. The pro-Musharraf party lost badly, and conceded defeat before the final tally.
"It's now time for the newly elected folks to show up and form their government," Bush said during a news conference in Ghana, the fourth of five nations he's visiting in Africa. "The question then is `Will they be friends of the United States?' I certainly hope so."
But with the ballot count nearly complete, the parties of slain former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif — the leader Musharraf ousted — had won enough seats to form a new government. They were expected, though, to fall short of the two-thirds needed to impeach Musharraf.
Bhutto, a two-time former prime minister, died in a shooting and suicide bombing as she waved to supporters from her car following a campaign rally on Dec. 27.
"We need Pakistan as an important ally." Bush said. "We've got common interests. We've got interests in dealing with radicals who killed Benazir Bhutto. We've got interests in helping make sure there's no safe haven from which people can plot and plan attacks against the United States of America and Pakistan."
Bush did not comment specifically on the political future of Musharraf, who has said he will not step down as head of state and intends to serve out his five-year-term, which expires in 2012. Bush said he was pleased that Musharraf had followed through on his promise to end emergency rule and hold free elections.
"There were elections held that have been judged as being fair, and the people have spoken," Bush said. "I view that as a significant victory. I view it as part of the victory on the war on terror. After all, the ideologues can't stand ... free societies — that's why they try to kill innocent people. That's why they tried to intimidate people during the election process."