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UPDATE: Surprise! PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari secured a large win in Pakistan’s presidential elections on Saturday. Information Minister Sherry Rehman was quoted saying, “It is an historic win. It is a victory for democracy…This man suffered jail for more than 11 years for the sake of democracy and today he is elected as the president of the country and it is a sign of the strengthening of democracy.” According to the AFP, Zardari secured “281 out of 426 parliamentary votes and won a thumping majority in three of the four provincial assemblies forming the presidential electoral college.”

Members of Pakistan’s Parliament and four provincial assemblies began voting today for the country’s new president. Asif Ali Zardari, the co-chairman of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), which heads the coalition government, is expected to win. The result is due later on Saturday. Stay tuned!

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The elections are upon us, and I’d like to say good luck to all who are going out to the election stations to vote. Please be careful – given the current security situation, extremist groups have been targeting polling centers in an effort to destabilize the country and intimidate voters.I’d also like to take a moment to promote a really great organization that is providing updated news on the elections, Future Leaders of Pakistan (FLP) that started Parliament Watch, a site that allows users to discuss issues, rate candidates, and provides continuously updated election news. Check it out! – http://www.pw.org.pk

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Last week’s poll closed yesterday with interesting results. Despite Sen. Obama‘s recent hint at a U.S. intervention in Pakistan, the majority of CHUP readers still felt he should be the next U.S. president (48%). Only 20% of those who participated in the poll answered Sen. Clinton, while 16% responded that Sen. McCain should be the next man in the White House. Either our readers have immensely forgiven Obama for what some may call his “harsh” words against Pakistan, or he’s just a more viable option than the other presidential front-runners.
In this week’s poll, I wanted to touch on the significant developments related to the assassinated former PM Benazir Bhutto‘s party – the Pakistan People’s Party, or the PPP. Yesterday, [see February 5 post] news sources revealed the contents of Bhutto’s political will, which was reportedly read to party leaders during her funeral but was released yesterday to “end any doubts about Bhutto’s wishes about the leadership of the party.” According to news sources yesterday, Bhutto, in her will, called for her husband, Asif Ali Zardari, to lead the party. Although the Dawn reported yesterday that Zardari indicated he may be the next PM if the PPP wins the Feb. 18th elections, an article in the Hindu today disputed the claim, reporting Zardari said he has “no intention” of attaining the post, noting instead the party would decide its leader.This week’s poll seeks to survey your views on who should lead the party – should it be Zardari, widely seen as a divisive figure for the party, his son, Bilawal Bhutto, still a student in England, or even Bhutto’s estranged 25 year old niece Fatima, well-known for writing and articulate opinions in Pakistan. There are also Makhdoom Amin Fahim – the Vice Chairman of the party, who is the expected PM candidate, and Aitzaz Ahsan – the prominent Pakistani lawyer who was recently put under house arrest [see February 3rd post].

A good side note: Zardari’s op-ed piece in today’s LA Times.

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Last week’s poll, probing who readers thought were responsible for Benazir’s assassination, is now closed. The results? Of the 70 people who answered, 47% believed Al Qaeda/Taliban was behind the attack, while 27% felt that government agencies had a hand in the killing. While 17% voted other, only 8% believed the government was behind the assassination. Just to put these results in perspective, the recent Gallup Pakistan poll [see January 14th post] found that nearly half of the 1,300 Pakistanis surveyed believed that government agencies or government-linked politicians were responsible for Benazir Bhutto’s assassination, while only 17% believed the military/government’s assertions that Al Qaeda and/or the Taliban were involved.This week’s poll asks CHUP! readers what they feel is the most immediate concern facing Pakistan. While I concede that the survey choices may be simplistic and may not fully grasp the depth of the country’s problems, it still aims to gauge reader opinion and break down the most immediate issues in Pakistan. Please take a moment to participate, and remember the key word is immediate, not long-term.

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