Musharraf loosens election grip as his polls slide
The Guardian
By Haroon Siddique and Agencies

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — The first comprehensive public opinion poll conducted in Pakistan since President Pervez Musharraf declared a state of emergency last month has found that 67 percent of Pakistanis want him to resign immediately and that 70 percent say his government does not deserve re-election.

One day before Pakistan’s state of emergency is due to be lifted, and as an opinion poll put president Pervez Musharraf in third place ahead of expected January elections, the former general is considering concessions to the opposition, a senior official said today.

The US-backed leader may scrap a two-term limit for prime ministers and suspend local mayors to prevent them influencing the forthcoming vote, said attorney general Malik Mohammed Qayyum.

“This is under the active consideration of the government, and a decision I think is likely to be taken today or tomorrow,” Qayyum said on Dawn News television. “I think now it’s for the president to decide.”

Such moves would be seen as an attempt to reassure the watching world that the elections would be “free and fair”, as previously promised by Musharraf, and mollify opposition leaders.

The former prime ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif have abandoned plans to boycott the January 8 elections in protest at the state of emergency, but are still sceptical that the poll will be conducted fairly.

A senior member of Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s party (PPP) said removing the mayors less than four weeks before the elections was “eyewash” for the international community.

“Everything this regime wanted to do has already been done for its rigging plan,” Senator Raza Rabbani said, alleging that biased police and officials were all in place.

An opinion poll by the International Republican Institute, a US government-financed group, showed that 31% of people surveyed felt Bhutto was best-suited to lead the country.

One quarter of respondents backed Sharif, who is barred from standing although his party is taking part, while 23% supported Musharraf.

The president was widely condemned when he imposed emergency rule on November 3 and dismissed unsupportive judges. Musharraf will amend the constitution to protect his decisions from court review before restoring it, Quyyum said yesterday.

The presidential spokesman, Rashid Qureshi, said the International Republican Institute poll misrepresented the true sentiments of Pakistanis and was driven by “vested interests,” the state-run Associated Press of Pakistan reported.

The group surveyed 3,520 people between November 19 and 28 – a sampling size that generally carries an error margin of three percentage points.

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