The big news of the day came out too late for the newspapers: Fidel Castro has resigned. (The Los Angeles Times managed to include a short story inside.) In a letter published overnight by the Communist Party’s Granma newspaper with no advance warning, Cuba’s head of state for 49 years wrote that “I will neither aspire to nor accept, I repeat, I will neither aspire to nor accept the positions of President of the State Council and Commander in Chief” when the National Assembly meets Sunday. The ailing 81-year-old Castro has not appeared in public for almost 19 months since he underwent surgery and temporarily ceded power to his brother, Raul. Even if he’s giving up his position, Castro insisted that he’ll still be around. “This is not my farewell to you. My only wish is to fight as a soldier in the battle of ideas. I shall continue to write under the heading of ‘Reflections by comrade Fidel.’ “
The New York Times, Washington Post, and Los Angeles Timeslead with the preliminary results from Pakistan’s parliamentary elections, which appear to show that voters handed President Pervez Musharraf an overwhelming defeat. Several prominent leaders of Musharraf’s party, including its president, lost their seats in Parliament. The two main opposition parties both appeared to have gained a large number of seats, but final results aren’t expected for a few days. USA Todayleads with a look at how states are increasingly passing records on mentally ill people to the FBI database that lists those who are barred from owning guns. Before the Virginia Tech shooting the database had 165,778 records from 22 states and now has about 402,000 records from 32 states. But it still is a long way away from listing everyone as more than 90 percent of the records come from only three states. “We’re missing 80 to 90% of the mentally ill. … That’s scary,” the president of the the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence said.
Many Pakistanis stayed away from the polls yesterday, and the LAT cites one expert who estimates turnout was approximately 35 percent. Although at least 24 people across the country died from scattered election-related violence, the widespread fear of a big attack on election day didn’t materialize. But it’s clear that this fear kept many away from polling stations, particularly women who had been specifically warned they would be targets. The NYT cites estimates that predict the Pakistan Peoples Party, which was led by the assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, would win 110 seats while the party headed by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, the Pakistan Muslim League-N, would pick up 100 out of a possible 272 seats.
Whatever the final results turn out to be, all signs point to a changed Pakistan. Early morning wire stories report that the leader of Musharraf’s party conceded defeat today and acknowledged he will now have to “sit on opposition benches.” The papers all remind readers that a parliament led by members of the opposition could move to impeach Musharraf or simply invalidate the controversial results of the election that gave him another term late last year. But the NYT hints at the end of its story that might not be necessary as two people close to the president suggested Musharraf would resign if he has to face a parliament dominated by his opponents.
USAT focuses its Pakistan story on the deep repercussions that yesterday’s election could have for the United States. A government led by opposition parties is likely to be more reluctant to cooperate with the United States, which has provided billions of dollars in aid for the fight against terrorism. The chairman of the Senate foreign relations committee, Joe Biden, said the United States should increase economic development aid to Pakistan so it can demonstrate that it is interested in more than just the fight against terrorism.
As far as the search for al-Qaida leaders inside Pakistan, it seems U.S. officials would prefer it if the election leads to a power vacuum, suggests the WP in an interesting Page One story that details how the CIA went about killing Abu Laith al-Libi on Jan. 29. The airstrike that killed the al-Qaida commander was carried out entirely by the U.S. agency without any approval from the Pakistani government. Officials said they often get their best results from such operations, where they act alone based on information from well-paid informants (“all it takes is bags of cash,” said one official). After the successful strike against Libi, officials expect support for autonomous operations will grow in Washington, and, if there’s a struggle for power after the elections it could mean Pakistan’s leaders would be too worried about other matters to interfere. But some contend that just because the strike against Libi was successful doesn’t mean the CIA has a good strategy in place or that sporadically killing al-Qaida leaders really has any long-term effect on the terrorist network. “Even a blind squirrel finds a nut now and then. But overall, we’re in worse shape than we were 18 months ago,” a senior U.S. official said.
The LAT and NYT front looks at how Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have been pumping up their populist rhetoric to appeal to voters who are anxious about the economy. Blue-collar voters are a particularly important part of the electorate in today’s primary in Wisconsin as well as in Ohio, where voters will go to the polls on March 4. The WSJ also fronts a look at blue-collar voters and says that the winner of the Democratic contest “may well be determined by white men.” Some worry that pervasive racist and sexist attitudes among many of these working-class men, who make up an important percentage of voters in several key swing states, could end up helping Sen. John McCain.
The LAT fronts an interview with the undercover investigator who infiltrated the California slaughterhouse and was behind this week’s recall of 143 million pounds of beef. The investigator for the Humane Society refused to reveal many details about himself besides that he’s a vegan. He was at the slaughterhouse for six weeks and secretly videotaped what he saw as the most egregious violations with a tiny camera. He insists the alleged violations were out in plain sight and he began to see them on his first day. Humane Society officials say the California slaughterhouse was chosen at random, which leads them to believe many others could be carrying out similar practices.
At least one war appears to be nearing an end. The WSJ and USAT take a look at how Toshiba appears ready to concede victory to Sony’s DVD technology. The WSJ says Toshiba could announce as early as today that it will drop the HD-DVD format, which would designate Sony’s Blu-ray as the winner “of perhaps the most expensive format battle since the VHS videocassette format trumped Sony’s Betamax in the 1980s.” Consumers who had decided to take the plunge and bet on Toshiba’s format are already expressing their anger at the company for abandoning them. Others, however, are eager to see the bright side. “They’re having great sales,” said a man who owns two HD-DVD players. “If you are an early adopter, that is the risk you run.”