Pakistan poll: President Zardari party 'makes gains'

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari. File photo President Zardari is hoping to put its mark on the Senate for the next three years

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Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari's beleaguered ruling political party has made gains in the Senate elections, unofficial results indicate.

They show that the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) won 19 seats, becoming the largest party with a total of 41 seats.

The main opposition PMLN party led by Nawaz Sharif secured eight seats.

Analysts say it is a big boost for Mr Zardari and his government, who have recently been under pressure from the judiciary and the powerful military.

They are in conflict over a leaked memo suggesting that President Zardari wanted to ask the US government for support to prevent a possible coup, during the turmoil which followed the killing of Osama Bin Laden.

The Supreme Court has also tried to force Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani to have corruption proceedings reopened against Mr Zardari.

Several leaders of the PPP earlier accused the opposition of conspiring to stop Friday's elections.

Seats for minorities

Elections are being held for 45 senators in the 104-member chamber. They are being replaced as their terms end.

Pakistan's official APP news agency says nine more candidates stood unopposed in the poll.

The unofficial results suggest that the PPP would now have 41 seats in the Senate, and together with its allies would control the chamber for another three years.

Analysis

Given the support that the ruling PPP party enjoys among the parliamentarians, this election is expected to give it considerable influence within the country's political system for several years to come.

It is also likely to give the party's sagging popularity a boost and improve its chances to perform better at the national elections due later this or early next year.

Many say this is an "historic" occasion because despite winning successive elections since 1970, the PPP was never allowed to complete its term or build up its support within the Senate.

One reason was that the Senate often operated as a legislative tool for the military coup-makers when the directly-elected parliaments were sacked.

The present election comes weeks after a dramatic political showdown between the government and the military, but this time the government seems to have emerged unscathed.

BBC correspondents say if Mr Zardari's party does as well as expected, it will have the power to block legislation introduced by whoever wins parliamentary elections due by early next year.

The voting took place in four provincial assemblies - Punjab, Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Baluchistan - with each choosing 12 senators.

However, results of seven of Balochistan seat have been withheld by the electoral commission because of objections raised by the PMLN.

All four provinces also reserve two seats for women, two for technocrats and one for minorities.

Four senators for the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and two for the Islamabad Capital Territory will be chosen by members of parliament.

Pakistan's national and provincial parliaments elect half the members of the Senate every three years. The elected senators have a six-year term.

Parliamentary polls are due in 2013 but opposition parties have been calling for early elections, blaming the current administration for many of Pakistan's problems, such as economic stagnation and an energy crisis.

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