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Opposition parties ask Musharraf to quit

July 12, 2002

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ISLAMABAD, July 11: Pakistan’s main political parties called on Thursday for the resignation of military ruler Pervez Musharraf and the instalment of a caretaker government to oversee parliamentary elections in October.

The poll date falls two days ahead of a Supreme Court deadline that elections must be held within three years of Musharraf’s 1999 take over.

An alliance of opposition parties, spearheaded by the parties of former prime ministers Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto, said the elections should be held under a civilian caretaker administration rather than military rule.

“Our leader Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan has said that for transparent elections a national government should be formed,” vice president of the 15-party Alliance for the Restoration of Democracy, Makhdoom Amin Fahim, told AFP.

Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (PML) said the elections would hold little value if they were conducted by a military regime.

“The only way to ensure free and fair elections is that there should be a neutral caretaker set up in the country,” PML’s chief organizer Ahsan Iqbal told AFP.

Cricket legend Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, which had taken a softer line towards military rule, expressed doubts of a free election.

“We have no confidence in the present election commission to act fairly,” PTI spokesman Akbar Babar told AFP.

“We will present a list of demands to the government to ensure the elections are free and fair.”

Political parties are also demanding the immediate lifting of a 32-month ban on political activities to allow campaigning ahead of the polls.

The PML said the election would be “meaningless” unless the ban on political parties was lifted immediately.

“There is no political activity in Pakistan since the coup (in October 1999 when Musharraf ousted Sharif),” spokesman Syed Zafar Ali Shah said.

“What is the point in calling elections if people are not able to conduct political activities?

“This is a mockery of elections.”

Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party vowed to defy the ban on campaigning if it was not lifted.

“It goes without saying. We will defy the ban and carry on our political activities,” PPP spokesman Farhatullah Babar told AFP.

Musharraf has drawn scathing criticism from activists, observers and opposition parties in recent months with a rash of moves seen as a blatant bid to consolidate his power ahead of the polls.

On Saturday, he issued a ban on former prime ministers running for a third term, effectively eliminating ex-premiers Sharif and Bhutto.

In June, he unveiled a package of constitutional changes to give himself unprecedented powers to sack the elected prime minister and parliament.

His “reform” package would also allow the existing National Security Council — dominated by generals and headed by him — to declare states of emergency and recommend sackings.—AFP