ISLAMABAD, Aug 30: Seeming to put on a brave face against the worst political troubles of his presidency, Gen Pervez Musharraf insisted on Thursday he must be elected for another term between Sept 15 and Oct 15 before general elections within this year.
And he told a carefully conducted question-and-answer programme over the state-run Pakistan Television that there must be stability in the country in the run-up to the elections which, he said, would be free and fair, no matter which party wins and who becomes the next prime minister.
The president’s remarks came amid an intense speculation about his re-election and the future of his position as army chief as a result of a possible political deal with self-exiled former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, and the programme “Aiwan-i-Sadr Se” was aired minutes after exiled former prime minister Nawaz Sharif announced his decision in London to return home on Sept 10 and to oppose a deal that could give five more years to the man who ousted him in the October 1999 coup.
Gen Musharraf acknowledged there was uncertainty in the country, which he blamed on rumours and ‘distortions (of facts) by design’, but he said this situation should end in the next three to four months after the elections though not much could be done instantly because “I am not a dictator” and “democracy is our necessity”.
He ruled out a resort to declaring a state of emergency or imposing martial law as solutions.
The president twice referred to the presidential election only as “my election”, apparently ruling out a rival candidate in a contest that seems fraught with both strong political opposition and constitutional problems to be decided by a newly assertive judiciary.
He did not say whether he would stand while retaining his second office of the Chief of the Army Staff or after giving up his uniform -- the demand of all opposition parties and even some members of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League. The opposition parties question the president’s right to seek election from the present assemblies and standing for the office while being in uniform and before the constitutionally mandated expiration of two years after retirement.
“My election should be held between Sept 15 and Oct 15,” he said, citing a provision inserted in the Constitution through the controversial 17th Amendment to provide for the vote a month before the end of the term of an incumbent, and added: “Next will be the elections for the National Assembly and the (four) provincial assemblies, which will be held within this year.”
“I hope people will vote for the right persons,” he said, without any reference to the ruling coalition of his loyalists or the opposition parties.
Most of the questions from the select audience, which appeared to be mostly from the corporate sector, related to the country’s economy and development plans and some voiced fears about the fate of the perceived economic turnaround if parties or persons previously accused of creating an economic mess were elected to power again.
Unlike his previous blanket denunciation of the two former prime ministers, the president was cautious for now, apparently out of concern for what he described in a similar programme last week as his desire for a national reconciliation, though he twice had a dig at Mr Sharif’s claims of economic performance.
He took credit for what he called constitutional checks and balance provided in the shape of the controversial military-civilian National Security Council that he heads.
“Whoever is the prime minister will be answerable to this constitutional body,” he said.
But he did not refer to his present powers to sack a prime minister and dissolve the National Assembly under the controversial Article 58 (2) (b), which opposition parties want to undo and is one of the sticking points in the president’s talks with Ms Bhutto.
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