Pakistani Rivals Threaten Boycott Of Elections




 
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Boots
 
December 4th, 2007  
Team Infidel
 
 

Topic: Pakistani Rivals Threaten Boycott Of Elections


New York Times
December 4, 2007 By Carlotta Gall
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Dec. 3 — Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, the two former prime ministers who have long bitterly opposed each other, joined with an opposition alliance on Monday to denounce what they see as an unfair environment leading up to parliamentary elections planned for January.
They threatened a mass boycott if President Pervez Musharraf does not improve conditions for an open election campaign and fair voting procedures.
“Free and fair elections do not seem possible,” said Mr. Sharif, just hours after the election commission barred him from running in the elections. The commission said his nomination papers were rejected because of a conviction for hijacking as he tried to prevent Mr. Musharraf’s plane from landing in Pakistan in 1999, shortly before Mr. Sharif’s government was overthrown by Mr. Musharraf, who was then the country’s military leader.
The fact that the diverse opposition parties were able to unite to oppose Mr. Musharraf is unlikely to be enough to derail the election process. But it may help the opposition to do well enough in the elections to cause Mr. Musharraf difficulties afterward if their cooperation continues.
Mr. Sharif — who has been Mr. Musharraf’s strongest and most vocal critic — said his removal from the parliamentary race did not matter and would not affect the determination of the opposition to press its demands.
“It is not an issue of my own person, it is a matter of democracy versus dictatorship,” he said. His brother, Shahbaz Sharif, has also been barred from running, on the grounds of financial irregularities.
The alliance of opposition parties would present its demands to Mr. Musharraf, Mr. Sharif said. “It these are not accepted, we will move toward a boycott,” he said.
Ms. Bhutto has opposed a boycott of the elections, arguing that it would only allow Mr. Musharraf to pack the Parliament with his own supporters and to form a government favorable to him. Without her Pakistan Peoples Party, the largest opposition party, a boycott would be largely ineffective. But she said her party reserved the right to boycott the elections if conditions did not improve.
Yet Ms. Bhutto also said that there was every sign that the president was already preparing to fix the elections on his behalf and that the opposition needed to combine forces to oppose him.
“If elections are rigged, we are going to need to be in a position, like the people of Ukraine were, to protest those elections,” she said, sitting beside Mr. Sharif and flanked by other opposition leaders at a news conference at her Islamabad home. “We really need to have a platform to which all the parties together can put the aspirations of the people for a democratic order.”
She demanded that an unbiased election commission be appointed, and accused the government of “downright robbery,” saying that it planned to rig the results by transferring thousands of prestamped ballots to stuff ballot boxes in the provinces.
“If we don’t get a fair election, public pressure must be mounted,” she said. “The ball is in the court of the regime.”
Some opposition parties have already announced a boycott of elections, which are scheduled to be held Jan. 8.
The most the opposition leaders could decide Monday was to form a committee to draw up their demands for measures that would create a more level playing field for elections. Mr. Musharraf has said the emergency rule that he imposed on Nov. 3 will be lifted on Dec. 16.
But in their demands, the parties are likely to complain about the bias of the caretaker government, the provincial governments, the election commission and the lack of an independent judiciary, since Mr. Musharraf dismissed the Supreme Court justices and replaced them with his supporters. The opposition groups would not ask for a postponement of the elections, Ms. Bhutto said.
Mr. Sharif was thrown out of power by Mr. Musharraf, who was then his army chief. As prime minister he had moved to dismiss General Musharraf in 1999 and then refused permission for the general’s plane to land as it was returning from Sri Lanka.
The army took control of the airports and allowed General Musharraf’s plane to land, and Mr. Sharif was arrested. He was imprisoned and convicted on corruption and hijacking charges and sentenced to life in prison. A year later he was allowed to go into exile to Saudi Arabia, but his sentences were never quashed.
After eight years of military rule, General Musharraf imposed the emergency rule, suspending the Constitution and dismissing the Supreme Court, in order to secure another presidential term. The chief justice, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, remains under house arrest.
Nevertheless, under pressure at home and abroad to return the country to democratic rule, he resigned from his post as chief of the army and became a civilian president last week, and allowed Mr. Sharif and his brother to return in time for the parliamentary elections.
 


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