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Musharraf Plans to Lift Emergency By Dec. 16

Opposition Coalition To Boycott January Vote

Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, November 30, 2007; Page A16

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Nov. 29 -- President Pervez Musharraf announced Thursday that he intended to lift emergency rule and restore the constitution by Dec. 16, saying he had fulfilled his promise to bring democracy to Pakistan and calling on political parties to participate in January elections.

But Musharraf, who was sworn in as the civilian president one day after stepping down as chief of Pakistan's army, did not say he would reinstate the senior judges he fired this month -- a key demand of several major political parties as well as the country's legal advocates and journalists.

At an elaborate military ceremony inside army headquarters in Rawalpindi, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, right, hands his symbolic bamboo baton to Gen. Ashfaq Kiyani, who succeeds Musharraf as chief of the army.
At an elaborate military ceremony inside army headquarters in Rawalpindi, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, right, hands his symbolic bamboo baton to Gen. Ashfaq Kiyani, who succeeds Musharraf as chief of the army. (Pakistan Inter Services Public Relations Via Bloomberg News)
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Late Thursday, in an immediate rebuff to Musharraf, a major opposition coalition announced that it planned to boycott the Jan. 8 parliamentary elections, saying the president had not gone far enough to restore democratic rights. The coalition includes the party headed by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif.

"We have taken this decision . . . because we don't see the chance of a free and fair election under the prevailing circumstances," said Qazi Hussain Ahmed, chief of the Jamaat-e-Islami, a major religious party. He said all coalition candidates would withdraw their nominations.

Sharif said he would ask his main rival, former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, to join the boycott. But Bhutto was quoted on Pakistani television as saying a boycott would "accomplish nothing."

Plans for a boycott could set up a confrontation with Musharraf and threaten to discredit the elections. In his speech, Musharraf said he would not tolerate "destabilizing" activities, hinting that such problems could lead to a new crackdown.

"The elections will be held according to the constitution. Do not try to stop them," he said in a 20-minute televised address to the nation. He said that he had created a "level playing field" for all parties and candidates -- mentioning Bhutto and Sharif by name -- and that it was their "duty" to participate in the elections.

It was far from clear whether Bhutto, the charismatic Pakistan People's Party leader who returned from voluntary exile last month, would agree to join forces with her longtime rival. Sharif, head of the Pakistan Muslim League, was overthrown by Musharraf in 1999 and returned triumphantly last weekend from a forced exile.

The two politicians, both of whom registered as candidates for Parliament this week, have been sniping at each other nonstop. Sharif has taken a hard line on Musharraf, while Bhutto has favored conciliation. Analysts said Musharraf has been counting on the divisions between them to weaken the opposition's standing at the polls.

Musharraf, who took the oath as president wearing a formal black civilian tunic, told his guests at the presidential palace, and later the national TV audience, that he was proud of his efforts to bring democracy, economic stability and social progress to Pakistan. He said that his plans had been "derailed by a conspiracy," making it necessary for him to impose the emergency, but that now the transition was "back on track."

"I have fulfilled my promise to bring democracy," he said in his TV address. "I left the position of army chief. I took the oath as a civilian president. I announced elections for January 8." Yet in his speech after taking the oath, he lashed out at Western critics, saying they are "obsessed" with a version of democracy that does not fit with Pakistani society.

The issue that Musharraf has failed to address, however -- and that could still badly undermine his vision of a controlled transition to democracy -- is his firing of several Supreme Court justices Nov. 3. Although the Bush administration and other Musharraf allies have not demanded the judges' reinstatement, Pakistanis across the economic and political spectrum have made passionate calls for him to do so.

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