Pakistan's federal cabinet has endorsed President Pervez Musharraf's "recent contacts" with exiled former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and extended full support to the president for his re-election.
The cabinet meeting on Wednesday, with Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz presiding, ruled out imposition of emergency and cleared the way for contacts with political parties for "free and fair elections", first to the presidency and later to the National Assembly and provincial legislatures, the media reported on Thursday.
The cabinet approval was on expected lines, political observers noted, despite reservations of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League's (Qaid) leadership about the prospects of having to share power in future with the Pakistan People's Party.
The Abu Dhabi meeting between Musharraf and Bhutto has already triggered defections from PML(Q) and other parties to PPP. Information Minister Mohammed Ali Durrani dubbed them 'routine'.
The presidential election is likely to be held between Sept 15 and Oct 15, media reports said.
There has been speculation about Aziz being replaced and a deputy prime minister, a nominee of Bhutto, being inducted in the run-up to the polls. The cabinet denied that any such move was in the offing.