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Deal or no deal, Musharraf in poll mode

world Updated: Aug 18, 2007 02:22 IST
Kamal Siddiqi

Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf has kicked off what political observers say is a covert election campaign, which should see him being re-elected as head of the country by mid-September. Officially, President Musharraf’s advisors deny that such an exercise is underway, but his interactions with legislators and a parallel image-building exercise are in full swing.

On the eve of Pakistan’s independence day, he was a speaker in a programme broadcast by State-run Pakistan Television called “From the Presidency.” In this, the President was placed before an assortment of Pakistanis, including doctors and singers, academics and government servants, who went on to ask him about his ideas and philosophies. There were complimentary remarks and jokes, with the President at ease and ready to listen and answer.

But the hard talk is also taking place. Over the week, in a series of meetings with ruling party MPs, the President has made it clear that he will seek re-election from the present assemblies, that he will be contesting in uniform and that general elections would be held after the presidential elections.

Ruling party MPs are worried about the alleged deal with the party of Ms Benazir Bhutto. They see this as a threat to their existence. If there were a deal with her Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), this would mean that many of the MPs from the ruling Pakistan Muslim League (PML) would not get any sort of official support in their bid to be re-elected.

On this, the President, who needs the PML MPs to be re-elected in September, said on Thursday that as such there was no deal with Ms Bhutto. But Musharraf also went a little too far when he criticised exiled political leaders earlier this week and said that there was no place in Pakistan for leaders like PML-N’s Nawaz Sharif, Ms Bhutto and Altaf Hussain of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM).

The MQM, an electoral ally of the government, protested strongly and the President beat a hasty retreat. However, having his political allies on one side is one thing, trying to come to terms with an increasingly active judiciary is another.

This week, the Supreme Court took up the case of the exile of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s exile and the existence of an agreement that the government claims was signed to allow this to happen.

Already, the Supreme Court has observed that Shahbaz Sharif, the former Prime Minister younger brother and a former Punjab Chief Minister, can be allowed to come back to the country.

If the exiled leaders do start coming back, the political race will heat up even before the Presidential elections are held in mid-September. Given the scenario, the presidential camp is now trying its best to woo the chief justice and make amends.

However, the dimensions of the cold war between the CJ and the President can be judged from the fact that the CJ did not attend the official celebrations to mark 60 years of Pakistan’s independence.