Monday, February 11, 2008

Poll: Musharraf Hits New Low

A new poll in Pakistan conducted by the US-based International Republican Institute shows President Musharraf's opposition receiving support from 72% of respondents. Only 15% of the poll participants approve of Mr. Musharraf, lowest ever positive rating registered for him to date. The sympathy wave for PPP in the wake of Benazir Bhutto's assassination has lifted it to 50% of the respondents voting for it, with PML (Nawaz Sharif) at 22%. This poll of 3,845 adults was conducted Jan 19-29 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 1.69%, reports the Washington Post in today's edition. Only 14% said they planned to vote for PML-Q, the main pro-Musharraf party.

While this poll result does not augur well for pro-Musharraf forces, there are questions about the sample size, the regional differences, and the presence of other smaller ethnic parties affecting the final outcome in terms of the number of parliamentary seats won by PPP, PML (N), PML (Q), MQM, JUI, and ANP. Similar polls have notoriously failed to correctly predict the outcome in the recent primaries in the US.

In answer to the question "Would you say the ruling coalition has done a good enough job to deserve re-election", 29% of the respondents said yes, 62% said no and the rest did not know or did not answer. This suggests that there's some ambivalence among 10-20 % of the people in this sample as to who to vote for.

Based on this poll, it is likely that PPP will emerge as the single largest party, though not necessarily with 50% of the seats. The rest of the seats will probably be won by PML(N), PML(Q), MQM, JUI and ANP in that order. The composition of the future government will likely depend on whether the traditional rivals in the PML(N) and the PPP can really work together and reach an accommodation with Musharraf, at least for a while.

The fear still remains that, if the results are substantially different from this expected outcome, the predictable mass protests in Pakistan will succeed in upending the entire nation and its economy with severe negative, long term consequences for Pakistan.
Such a situation could lead to another military takeover and Martial Law setting the political process back. It is in the best interest of all Pakistani leaders to show flexibility in the interest of advancing the political process without repeating the vicious cycle Pakistan has been in for the last 50 years.

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