President Pervez Musharraf lifted emergency rule and restored the constitution in Pakistan, meeting a key opposition demand for free and fair parliamentary elections next month.
The provisional constitutional order was repealed and the constitution of 1973 was restored through presidential orders released in Islamabad today, Law Minister Afzal Haider said in a phone interview. Musharraf is scheduled to address the nation in a televised speech at 8 p.m. local time.
The restoration of the constitution may curb opposition to Musharraf from former prime ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, who have said their parties will contest the Jan. 8 ballot under protest. The U.S. had also been pressing Musharraf to revoke the emergency decree before the Jan. 8 election.
“The lifting of emergency was one of our demands but just doing that doesn’t mean elections will be fair,” said Sherry Rehman, spokeswoman for Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples Party. “It is the Election Commission that has to maintain the integrity of the process.”
Musharraf suspended the constitution on Nov. 3 and fired Supreme Court judges, accusing them of interfering in affairs of state and hampering the fight against terrorism. He also imposed media curbs, suspended citizens’ rights and arrested thousands of opposition supporters.
“The lifting of emergency fulfills a demand of the political parties and the international community,” Zafar Nawaz Jaspal, assistant professor of international relations at Quaid- e-Azam University in Islamabad said. “Media curbs still remain and the judiciary’s position is the same. So this is just a way to legitimize the elections.”
The president didn’t relax restrictions on the media and deposed judges, including former top judge Iftikhar Muhammed Chaudhry, won’t be reinstated, according to the order.
“Lifting of emergency is just a small step,” Tehmina Daultana, vice president of Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League- Nawaz said in a phone interview from Lahore. “Free elections can only be ensured if the judiciary is reinstated.”
Musharraf amended the constitution late yesterday to ensure actions taken under emergency can’t be challenged. The amendments also forcibly retired deposed judges.
“This is illegal just like all Musharraf’s steps,” said Rasheed Razvi, vice-chairman of the Pakistan Bar Council. “The constitution can only be amended by parliament.”
Musharraf fired the country’s judges as they were due to rule on the legality of him seeking a second term in office while remaining army chief. A new panel of Supreme Court justices, all appointed by the president, rejected the challenge and backed the Oct. 6 presidential ballot, in which Musharraf won a majority of votes from lawmakers.
Lifting emergency “will not restore real constitutional rule” unless Musharraf also “withdraws changes he made to the constitution,” New York-based Human Rights Watch said in a statement today. “These amendments serve the purpose of institutionalizing impunity for the military’s human rights abuses and muzzling lawyers and the media.”
Musharraf stepped down as army chief on Nov. 28 and was sworn in for a second five-year term as president a day later. Most opposition supporters have been freed.
Lawyers plan to boycott the election to pressure the government to reinstate deposed judges, according to the Pakistan Bar Council. As many as 40 lawyers, including Aitzaz Ahsan, president of the Supreme Court Bar Association, have withdrawn their applications to contest the election.
Cricket captain turned lawmaker Imran Khan has said his Tehrik-e-Insaaf party will boycott the elections because they are illegal under Musharraf. Khan won the sole seat for his party in the 2002 elections.
Jamaat-e-Islami, the second-largest religious party has also decided to boycott the ballot.
An opinion poll published on Dec. 13 shows that 67 percent of Pakistanis want Musharraf to resign immediately. Presidential spokesman Rashid Qureshi rejected the poll, the official Associated Press of Pakistan reported.
The survey was conducted last month by the Washington-based International Republican Institute after Musharraf declared a state of emergency. A majority of Pakistanis oppose the decree and 70 percent of respondents said the government doesn’t deserve to be returned to office in elections.
Seventy percent of respondents opposed the state of emergency and 26 percent supported it.
Bhutto, 54, who returned to Pakistan in October, ending eight years in self-imposed exile, has said she has evidence the pro-Musharraf party plans to rig voting. She survived an assassination attempt on her homecoming procession when suicide bombers killed 136 people in Karachi.
Sharif, 57, who was barred by the Election Commission from contesting the ballot on the grounds that he was convicted of hijacking in 2000, has said he won’t work under Musharraf if he wins a majority in the voting. Sharif returned to Pakistan last month.Top