The election in Pakistan that buried former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto's Pakisan People's Party probably passes muster as democratic and fair. The circumstances that mandated the election do not.
Little in parliamentary tradition justified the president, Ghulam Ishaq Khan, in dismissing Prime Minister Bhutto last August for alleged misrule. Suspicion greets the prosecutions hurled at her since, notably the imprisonment of her husband, Asif Ali Zardari, in connection with a kidnapping.
The real winner of Pakistan's fifth election is the chief of the armed forces, Gen. Mirza Aslam Beg. He is believed to have pulled the plug on the Bhutto government after reluctantly tolerating it for 20 months, and may get to say which of three contenders will be prime minister.
Beyond doubt, the ineffective, contentious, oft-challenged and possibly corrupt Bhutto government has not re-emerged. Little can be predicted about the victorious Islamic Democratic Alliance, otherwise known as IJI. It is an unwieldy coalition. It will be more conservative, especially on the role of women, and somewhat more Islamic and fundamentalist than its predecessor, though probably moderate compared to Islamic fundamentalist regimes elsewhere.
The next head of government might be Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi, the interim prime minister, who has the right ethnicity coming from Sind. Or it might be Mian Nawaz Sharif, chief minister of Punjab, the strongest state. The tradition in the 43-year-old nation is to deny the prime ministry to the economically dominant Punjabis. The other possibility is Mohammed Khan Junejo, Ms. Bhutto's predecessor and a protege of the assassinated strong man, Mohammed Zia ul Haq.
Ms. Bhutto is 37, brilliant, courageous and utterly confident that she was born to rule Pakistan. She will be heard from again. She and her husband were elected to the lower house of parliament, guaranteeing that Pakistan will have an opposition if the regime and army allow it.
What the United States should want of a Pakistani regime is that it keep the peace with India, refrain from nuclear weapons development and crack down against the drug trade. Probably the army high command has more say on these matters than the civilian government. That appeared to be true while Ms. Bhutto governed, and will be less doubted now.