ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) – The party of slain opposition leader Benazir Bhutto said Friday it would try to remove President Pervez Musharraf if it wins next week’s parliamentary elections.
Although Musharraf is not up for re-election, he could face impeachment if the opposition wins a commanding majority in the legislature.
“The ouster of Musharraf will put Pakistan back on the track of real democracy,” Babar Awan, a member of the central executive council of the Pakistan People’s Party, told The Associated Press.
Recent opinion surveys ahead of Monday’s balloting show the party running well ahead of Musharraf supporters.
“We will win if the elections are not massively rigged,” Awan said.
Awan’s comments came a day after Musharraf warned his opponents not to immediately claim fraud and stage demonstrations after the vote.
Another opposition party, headed by ex-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, rejected Musharraf’s warning, saying it would stage nationwide protests if it believes the election was manipulated.
“We know Musharraf wants to rig the elections,” said Sadiq ul-Farooq, a senior member of Sharif’s party. “If he did it, we will force him to quit through street protests.”
Opposition politicians fear the results will be manipulated in hopes of assuring the ruling party enough seats to block any impeachment.
Musharraf dismissed those concerns Thursday.
“Despite all rumors, insinuations and every type of apprehension, these elections will be free, fair, transparent and peaceful,” he said at a seminar in the capital, Islamabad.
The former general, who seized power in a 1999 military coup, called on parties to “show grace” if they lose and refrain from calling their followers into the streets to allege fraud.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack criticized Musharraf’s suggestion that he would not tolerate protests after the election.
“People have the right to peacefully protest and to peacefully speak out on their opinions regardless of whether those opinions are supportive of a government,” he said.
The United States is Musharraf’s principal foreign supporter because of his role in the war against terror. But U.S. diplomats have expressed concern that growing public resentment of Musharraf threatens to tarnish America’s image in Pakistan.
A survey released this week by the U.S. government-funded International Republican Institute said half the Pakistanis polled planned to vote for Bhutto’s party and 22 percent backed Sharif’s party. Only 14 percent favored the ruling PML-Q.
The poll of 3,845 adults was conducted Jan. 19-29 and has a margin of error of plus or minus about 2 percentage points.
Pakistan, a country of 160 million, faces a major challenge from Islamic extremism, especially in northwest regions bordering Afghanistan. The Dec. 27 assassination of Bhutto and a string of suicide bombings, some targeting campaign rallies, have been blamed on al-Qaida- or Taliban-linked militants.
Police said Friday they had arrested another suspect in Bhutto’s assassination the fifth so far in the probe into her death.
Abdur Rashid was taken into custody in Kamra, a town near the capital, the head of the investigation Chaudhry Abdul Majeed said. He said not say when the man was apprehended.
Majeed said Rashid admitted during a court appearance Friday to helping those who carried out attack.