Benazir Bhutto Returns

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In the National Assembly elections of October 6-7, 1993, Benazir's PPP won a plurality--eighty-six seats--but not the absolute majority needed to immediately form a government in the 217-seat National Assembly. Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League ran a close second in gaining seventy-two seats. Over the next two weeks, Benazir was successful in mustering the allegiance of a number of small regional and independent members of the assembly and on October 19, 1993, was able to reclaim power with 121 seats in her coalition government. The October elections were hailed as the fairest in Pakistan's history and were, according to international observers, held "without hindrance or intimidation." Voter turnout, however, was lower than usual, as only about 40 percent of registered voters participated.

Benazir benefited in the 1993 national elections from the MQM's boycott. In the 1990 national elections, the MQM, which had captured fifteen seats, supported Nawaz Sharif's IJI coalition. Benazir also benefited by the poor showing of the religious parties.

After only one month in office, Benazir was able to strengthen her position considerably. On November 13, 1993, Benazir's candidate for president, Farooq Leghari, an Oxfordeducated PPP stalwart, easily defeated acting President Wassim Sajjad, who was backed by Nawaz Sharif. In a vote by the two parliamentary chambers--the National Assembly and the Senate--and the four provincial assemblies, Leghari won 273 votes to Sajjad s 167. Bhutto hailed Leghari's election as a triumph for democracy and predicted that he would contribute to the country's stability.

Although the new president retained the constitutional authority vested in the Eighth Amendment to dismiss the popularly elected National Assembly as well as the prime minister, he appeared willing to support Benazir in curbing the power of his office. Leghari promised not only to support a constitutional amendment to annul the extraordinary presidential powers granted by the Eighth Amendment but also to challenge restrictive laws that related to Islamic religious courts and to women's rights. In order to amend the constitution, however, a three-quarters majority in the parliament is needed--a formidable task, considering the strength of Benazir's opposition and the unproven staying power of her coalition. Leghari's victory, nonetheless, was expected to end the pattern of disruptive power struggles between prime minister and president that had so undermined previous governments.

Early in her term, Benazir declared that she would end Pakistan's isolation and, in particular, that she would strive to improve her country's troubled relations with the United States. At the same time, however, she vowed to maintain Pakistan s nuclear program and not allow the "national interest to be sacrificed." Relations between the United States and Pakistan had deteriorated sharply during 1992 when the former threatened to classify the latter as a terrorist state because of its aid to militants fighting in Indian-controlled Kashmir. Although the United States withdrew its threat in mid-July 1993, the Kashmir issue still loomed large and threatened to complicate Pakistan's relations with both India and the United States.

Benazir faced another, personal challenge. As her administration settled into office, a bitter Bhutto family feud played out on the front pages of the Pakistani press. The feud pitted Benazir against her younger brother Murtaza and her mother, Nusrat, over dynastic control of the PPP. Nusrat organized Murtaza's election campaign for the Sindh provincial assembly, in which her son contested (in absentia) more than twenty constituencies as an anti-Benazir candidate. Although he could only occupy one seat in the assembly, Murtaza contested multiple seats because if he had won more than one, his political stature would have risen. The electorate gave Murtaza only one victory, however, and as he returned to Pakistan from years in exile in Damascus, he was jailed by the government on long-standing terrorist charges. In retaliation for her mother s championing of Murtaza's political ambitions over her own, Benazir ousted Nusrat from her position as cochairperson of the PPP, further deepening the family rift. These family squabbles were a distraction for the new government, but Benazir was expected to make progress on a wide variety of social, educational, and cultural issues.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress