ISLAMABAD (AFP) — Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf's allies conceded defeat Tuesday after elections, leaving the party of slain former premier Benazir Bhutto and other opponents headed for a crushing win.
The political survival of Musharraf, a key US ally in the US-led "war on terror", was placed in serious doubt as unofficial results on state television showed a rout of the Pakistan Muslim League-Q (PML-Q), the ruling party.
Celebratory gunfire erupted in several cities after the parliamentary elections, seen as completing the country's transition to democracy after eight years of military rule by Musharraf.
"We accept the verdict of the nation," said Tariq Azeem, a spokesman for the PML-Q, which backed Musharraf throughout the last parliament. "We officially concede defeat."
Two-time prime minister Nawaz Sharif said he wanted to work with other opposition parties in parliament to "rid Pakistan of dictatorship forever."
Sharif, whom Musharraf ousted in a coup in 1999, told reporters in the eastern city of Lahore that he had already spoken to Bhutto's widower, Asif Ali Zardari, and would meet with him later in the week for further talks.
With counting in from 257 constituencies, the PML-Q and its allies had taken a total of 57 seats. The party's chief and several key members lost their seats in Pakistan's national assembly.
Even if the PML-Q won all the remaining seats not yet counted, they would not be able to attain a majority in the parliament, which has 272 elected and 70 unelected seats.
"This is the basic spirit of democracy," Azeem told AFP. "We believe the elections were free and fair and everybody must accept the decision for the betterment of Pakistan."
State television said Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party (PPP) had 85 seats, Sharif's faction of the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) had 65 seats, with the PML-Q, smaller parties and independents taking the rest, according to preliminary unofficial results.
Opposition supporters took to the streets chanting the names of Sharif and Bhutto in the small hours of Tuesday when early counting showed their parties sweeping the board.
The death of Bhutto in a December 27 gun and suicide attack -- along with other suicide bombings -- overshadowed the campaign and forced the election's delay until Monday.
Analysts hailed the vote as the final step on the nuclear-armed nation's path to civilian democracy.
"It means the forces of democracy and the rule of law have won," Talat Masood, a former general who is now a political and defence analyst, told AFP.
He said the election results also show that the previous government's support of the West and its "war on terror" have "been totally rejected by the people".
The opposition feared polls would be rigged but private Washington-based analysts Strategic Forecasting said "the elections seem to have been decently free and fair."
Azeem earlier told AFP: "If the results are confirmed we will play the part of the opposition as effectively as we can."
High-profile victims who lost their seats included party president Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain and almost all of Musharraf's former cabinet, including close presidential ally Sheikh Rashid.
Full results were not expected until late Tuesday or early Wednesday.
Musharraf will become a powerless leader at best -- and could lose his job -- if the trends were confirmed, analysts said.
Observers said Musharraf would likely try to woo Bhutto's party and split it from Sharif's, but said the president faced major problems for his own survival that would distract him from fighting terrorism.
Musharraf was viewed by the United States as its bulwark in the fight against Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants based in Pakistan's tribal areas on the border with Afghanistan.
After casting his ballot, the embattled president -- who stepped down as army chief in November last year amid political turmoil and bloodshed sparked by his efforts to remain in power -- said he would accept the outcome.
"The result will be the voice of the nation and whosoever wins we should accept it -- that includes myself," he told state television.
The election commission put turnout according to early results at about 45 percent -- higher than in the previous two elections.
Preliminary results also showed a near total defeat for hardline Islamic parties that under the previous administration ruled Pakistan's North West Frontier Province bordering Afghanistan.
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