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Pakistan’s new democratic hope?
The selection of Pakistan’s new prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani, presents a “rare opportunity” for the country to “renew itself,” said Reihan Salam in The Atlantic’s Current blog. Potentially “the biggest news of all,” said Richard Holbrooke in The Was
W
hat happened
Pakistan’s parliament elected Yousaf Raza Gilani, a member of slain former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party, as the country’s new prime minister. Gilani beat the candidate of President Pervez Musharraf, 264 votes to 42. He will be sworn in Tuesday, but in his first speech Monday he ordered the freeing of all judges detained by Musharraf, including the chief justice of the supreme court. (AP in USA Today)

What the commentators said
Most people consider Gilani “a cipher who is merely housesitting for Asif Ali Zardari,” Bhutto’s “notoriously corrupt” widower, said Reihan Salam in The Atlantic’s Current blog. But he still presents a “rare opportunity” for Pakistan to “renew itself.” Gilani “has his work cut out for him, to be sure,” but he doesn’t have to be “a gifted technocrat” to start rolling back “Musharraf’s abuse of power.”

Releasing the former chief justice was a good start, said the London Independent in an editorial. It showed both that Gilani can “exert real power” and that Musharraf might accept his diminished “day-to-day power.” But this “new climate of hope for Pakistan” is as fragile as the governing coalition that Gilani heads. One threat is the expected bid for power by Zardari, after he wins a seat in parliament.

Gilani was chosen partly because he can’t “challenge the political authority” of Zardari, said India’s The Hindu in an editorial. But Zardari’s “substantial say” in running the new government, along with former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, needn’t be unhealthy. With five parties, the new coalition is “virtually a national government,” and that could “enable the widest possible consensus on the crucial problems facing” Pakistan.

The “return of a vibrant democratic process” is only “half the story,” said Richard Holbrooke in The Washington Post (free registration). Potentially “the biggest news of all” is that Pakistan’s military appears to have left politics to the politicians, after 60 years of interfering with “unfortunate regularity.” Maybe Pakistan’s “current mood” of hope isn’t so “delusional” after all.

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