By Robert Birsel
ISLAMABAD, Feb 19 (Reuters) - Pakistan’s general election was credible and legitimate and the moderate majority of the people had expressed their will and desire for change, a team of U.S. senators that observed the vote said on Tuesday.
Opposition parties defeated the allies of the increasingly unpopular President Pervez Musharraf in Monday’s parliamentary elections, after widespread vote-rigging that the opposition had repeatedly warned of failed to materialise.
The vote was also largely peaceful, though about 20 people were killed and 150 wounded in election day violence.
Senator John Kerry, referring to the violence, told a news conference the election had not been perfect.
"But ... in the end, those who did go out and vote, and the process that was put in place, resulted in an election that meets the basic threshold of credibility and of legitimacy in the eyes of Pakistani people, which is critical, but also in the eyes of those of us who observed," he said.
Kerry observed polling with Senators Joseph Biden, chairman of the U.S. Senate foreign relations committee, and Chuck Hagel.
Biden said that, while he expected there would be complaints, it had been a credible election.
"The will of the moderate majority, and the vast majority of the Pakistani people are moderate and democratic, is becoming a reality," Biden told the news conference.
Pakistan has not had an election regarded as fully free and fair since 1970.
The senators met Musharraf and Asif Ali Zardari, the widower of assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto on Tuesday. They met former prime minister and opposition party leader Nawaz Sharif on Monday.
Both the opposition parties won more seats than the former ruling, pro-Musharraf party.
Bhutto’s murder in a suicide attack on Dec. 27 threw into question the prospects of the nuclear-armed country after months of confrontation between former army chief and key U.S. ally Musharraf and opponents intent on forcing him from power.
Biden said it was the responsibility of Pakistani leaders to focus on the future, restore constitutional order, a free press, an independent judiciary and powers to parliament.
"If they do the United States of America should do much more to help," said Biden, who before the vote said the United States should cut military aid to Pakistan if the polls were rigged.
The United States has supplied $10 billion of military aid to Pakistan since 2001 to fight Taliban and al Qaeda militants based on its rugged border with Afghanistan.
Musharraf had repeatedly vowed the elections would be free, fair and peaceful and he has promised to work with whoever forms the next government and becomes prime minister.
The head of a Pakistani election watchdog said there had been blatant pre-poll rigging but minimal cheating on polling day.
"The credit goes to our network which deployed 20,000 observers," said Sarwar Bari of the Free and Fair Elections Network.
The head of Gallup Pakistan, Ijaz Shafi Gilani, also said there had been illegal election activity before the vote but in the end, the result reflected the popular will.
"I was of the view that there would not be polling day rigging and, in my assessment, that was confirmed."
A European Union observer mission is due to deliver its assessment of the vote on Tuesday. (Editing by Alex Richardson)