Musharraf's Party Suffers Grueling Defeat in Vote

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Pakistan's ruling party conceded defeat Tuesday after opposition parties routed allies of President Pervez Musharraf in parliamentary elections that could threaten the rule of America's close ally in the war on terror.

A leading opposition figure suggested that Musharraf should listen to the "verdict" of the people in the Monday balloting and step down.

As partial returns pointed to an opposition landslide, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, head of the Pakistan Muslim League-Q, said "we accept the results with an open heart" and "will sit on opposition benches" in the new parliament."

"All the King's men, gone!" proclaimed a banner headline in the Daily Times. "Heavyweights knocked out," read the Dawn newspaper.

The private Geo TV network said the party of slain former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and another group led by ex-premier Nawaz Sharif had so far won 149 seats, more than half of the 272-seat National Assembly.

The Pakistan Muslim League-Q party was a distant third with 33 seats.

Several close political allies of Musharraf were election casualties. The chairman of the ruling party, the foreign minister and railways minister were among those who lost seats in Punjab, the most populous province and a key electoral battleground.

Religious parties also fared badly, and were set to lose their control of the North West Frontier province gained in the last parliamentary elections in 2002, when they benefited from Pakistani anger over the U.S.-led invasion to topple the Taliban in Afghanistan.

The results cast doubt on the political future of Musharraf, who was re-elected to a five-year term last October in a controversial parliamentary ballot.

Sharif reminded reporters in Lahore that Musharraf had said he would step down when the people wanted him to do so.