KARACHI, Pakistan — They are historic figures, two Western-educated Asian women who rode peaceful "people power" revolutions to lead their impoverished nations from brutal dictatorship to struggling democracy.
Both, propelled to prominence by martyred men, freed a boisterous press, restored civil liberties and were held up as champions of the poor. Both won standing ovations from an adoring U.S. Congress in the capital of their closest ally.
And both Pakistan's Benazir Bhutto and the Philippines' Corazon Aquino have squandered remarkable goodwill and promise through political ineptitude, widespread corruption in their administrations and personal arrogance in the face of myriad economic and political crises.
Despite similarities, one difference is key: Pakistan's voters go to the polls Wednesday to decide whether to give the 37-year old Bhutto another chance. Three months ago, President Ghulam Ishaq Khan, backed by the military, summarily sacked her as prime minister, and there is still a chance she may be arrested or banned from political office. Her husband has already been jailed, and she is charged in six court cases with corruption and abuse of power.
In Manila, Aquino, 54, grimly hangs on as president after the seventh and latest military attempt to grab power, a futile and nearly bloodless revolt on the island of Mindanao. She has lasted 4 1/2 years, but her future is no more assured.
"I guess the lesson is that the transition to a broad-based democracy may be much more difficult than the revolution itself," said Maleeha Lodhi, a political scientist in Islamabad, Pakistan.
"Maybe you need moderate leaders, gray consensus-oriented figures, rather than colorful leaders who are seen as larger than life--and behave like it," Lodhi added.
Bhutto's aides insist that her next administration would be better than the previous one. "I think she'll be different now," said Yafees Siddiqi, spokesman for Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party. "Before, she had all these people to take care of. That's why everyone said she was corrupt. Now she's paid off everybody. Now she can have a new start."
Aquino has also made some efforts to change her administration's ways. In June, frustrated at the legislature's unwillingness to fund or implement her policies, she launched a political movement called Kabisig, which means "linking arms." It's purpose: to send money and government assistance directly to provincial officials and non-government organizations. The effectiveness of the program remains unproven, however.
Some say the real lesson here is that Bhutto and Aquino both had to cope with unrealistic expectations abroad as well as political and military enemies at home. Both inherited bankrupt treasuries, bloody internal conflicts and a feudal power structure that offered little room for reform.
One Western diplomat who has served in both capitals just shook his head when he compared the two cultures.
"The daily violence, the politics of personality, the dominance of feudal families, tribal warlords, a collapsing economy, political goons running around . . ., " he said. "How could anyone really take control?"
Still, the expectations were fueled by the sheer drama of their arrival. Bhutto's father was Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, a populist prime minister overthrown by Gen. Zia ul-Haq and hanged after a dubious show trial in 1979.
After 11 years of martial law, Zia was killed in August, 1988, in a still-unexplained plane crash. Groomed at Oxford and Radcliffe, and tested in squalid prison and exile, Bhutto took over her father's party to narrowly win national elections three months later.
Aquino's husband was Benigno S. (Ninoy) Aquino Jr. Chief opponent of President Ferdinand E. Marcos, he was jailed for eight years under Marcos' martial law and then assassinated when he returned to Manila from exile in Boston in August, 1983.
His widow, who called herself a "housewife," took office in February, 1986, after fraudulent elections and a civilian-supported military coup in Manila forced Marcos and his family to flee to Hawaii.
But no one said democracy would be easy. Pakistan's 107 million people have suffered three wars, three internal insurgencies and three military dictators since the nation was carved out of British India as a Muslim homeland in 1947.
Generals have determined Pakistan's politics ever since, running the country for 25 of its 43 years. Two prime ministers, a president, several high-ranking generals and countless politicians and religious leaders have been assassinated. Thirteen governments have been dismissed and three constitutions written.
Bhutto faced constant suspicion from the generals. They insisted on keeping most intelligence and foreign policy operations, showing her only peripheral papers. And when she apparently angered them, President Ishaq Khan dismissed her.
"When the politicians create a vacuum, the military moves in," said Ayaz Amir, an Islamabad analyst and columnist. "It's that simple."