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Polls before Jan 9, says Musharraf

November 12, 2007

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• NA to be dissolved on Nov 15, PAs on 20th
• Emergency unlikely to be lifted before polls
• Deposed chief justice paralysed govt
• Judges not under PCO oath to stay out

ISLAMABAD, Nov 11: President Gen Pervez Musharraf announced on Sunday that general elections would be held in the first week of January, but refused to give a date for lifting the emergency rule.

“Elections to the national and provincial assemblies will be held on the same date which the Election Commission of Pakistan will announce,” he said.

In any case, the whole election process will end by January 9, before Muharram. The national and provincial assemblies would be dissolved on November 15 and 20 respectively, he added.

Addressing his first news conference since the imposition of emergency, President Musharraf severely criticised deposed Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry and declared in categorical terms that none of the sacked judges of the superior courts would be reinstated.

He termed it “judicial correction” which needed to bring back sanity in the system of governance.

At the same time, he dropped strong suggestions that the next general elections would be held under emergency rule which, according to him, was the best to ensure “better law and order” in the country.

He also said that the caretaker government at the centre would be formed immediately after November 15 while the provinces would have such a set-up after November 20. A caretaker government is already in place in the NWFP. The president said that after having consulted the chief ministers of all the provinces he had decided to hold elections to national and provincial assemblies on the same day.

A sudden electricity breakdown startled everybody in the main hall of the Aiwan-e-Sadr where the press conference was being held and the president appeared to have been disturbed. But he resumed speaking as soon as power was restored after about a minute.

Gen Musharraf declined to give a date about doffing his military uniform to become a civilian president. “I wish I could give any specific date to remove my uniform as the issue is sub judice and requires notification by the Supreme Court,” he said.

“The moment this notification is issued by the court, I will take oath as the civilian president and this will set aside all aspersions, rumours and doubting my intentions.”

He claimed that he had never violated the Constitution and legal norms and that he had been fulfilling his promise of completing the transition from military to civilian rule. The country would soon have a total democratic dispensation, he said.

Facing a barrage of questions about the state of emergency, the president insisted it had been promulgated in the larger interest of the nation. “But I cannot give you the exact date for lifting emergency which is primarily aimed at effectively carrying out an army operation against terrorists who are fast becoming a threat for settled areas of the NWFP and elsewhere.”

He said that army action against terrorists would be intensified by raising 128 platoons of the Frontier Constabulary (FC), 7,000 levies and 1,500 policemen.

Replying to a question, Gen Musharraf said he did not believe that PPP leader Benazir Bhutto enjoyed massive public support. He also disputed a perception that Ms Bhutto would be the next prime minister of the country.

He said that everyone, including the PPP leader, would have to abide by the rules and that anyone violating these rules would be taken to task.

He denied having struck a deal with Ms Bhutto about power sharing in the future. There was nothing personal between him and Ms Bhutto, he said.

“About her popularity, you better go in the rural areas as you cannot judge this thing by sitting and watching a few people protesting against the government in Islamabad.”

A: “Mr President are you Ms Bhutto’s ally or her opponent?,” a journalist asked him. “We are now launching a political process and in this process I will be above board, not taking anyone’s side. Once these elections are over, we will be talking about having any collaboration,” he replied.

He said he was encouraging all political leaders to help achieve political reconciliation in the country so that joint efforts could be launched to defeat terrorists and religious extremists.

Asked how could there be fair and free elections during the state of emergency, he said it had been imposed to deal with terrorists and suicide bombers who were out to destroy the peace of the country. “Emergency reinforces the law and order situation which is necessary to hold free and transparent elections,” he said, adding that he wanted foreign observers to come to Pakistan and watch the forthcoming elections.

The president also said that all political leaders and workers would be released soon so that they could take part in the elections. “But if somebody creates anarchy in the name of elections, he or she will no be allowed to do so,” he asserted.

When asked about the deportation of three foreign journalists, the president said what they had written and the way their newspapers had commented about him were highly objectionable and could not be tolerated in any civilised society. “In fact I expect an apology from them,” he said, and asked what would be their reaction if any Pakistani reporter used such a language against their president. “I am really shocked and this cannot be condoned.”

Responding to a question he said he did not expect suspension of aid by bilateral donors or any international financial institution in the event of continuation of emergency.

He claimed to have received support from various world leaders who had called him to express concern over the imposition of emergency. “They understand the ground realities and the circumstances in which I have imposed this emergency. Therefore, I am not at all worried that they would stop their aid to Pakistan,” he said.

The world leaders, he said, were concerned about fair and free elections and his uniform. “But they were satisfied when I told them the country which was being derailed from democracy through various decisions of the Supreme Court now needs to be brought back to the democratic mode very soon.”

Asked about the amendments in the army act, he said it was wrong to presume that the government would get hold of people from the street without any lawful authority. “This is just meant to disallow terrorists to seek any favour from courts. In fact this amendment will provide an opportunity to us to accomplish our task against terrorists in a better legal way,” he said.

Replying to a question, he defended his action against some judges of the superior courts and said: “Those who did not take oath under the PCO will not be allowed to come back”.

“Judicial correction was necessary to avoid a clash between the judiciary and the executive,” he said.

He criticised ousted chief justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry for making the whole country non-functional. “The chief justice was seeking cheap popularity by creating hurdles in the way of privatisation.”The president also defended his government’s action against Lal Masjid and paid rich tribute to those who had taken part in it.

He appealed to the nation to support the government in its efforts to root out the menace of terrorism and extremism. He warned that the government’s failure against terrorists would endanger the very existence of the country.

The president asked the media to avoid portraying terrorists as heroes and giving them any coverage. “All we desire is to show responsibility while criticising the government,” he said, adding that he would never want to impose any curbs on the media.

“But you have to check deformation by design. We have made a code of conduct which is not against the independence of the media,” he said.