The Pakistani prime ministerial hopeful from a party loyal to President Pervez Musharraf says he is not against forming a coalition with either of the two main parties tipped to come top in next week's election.
Polls predict the pro-Musharraf Pakistan Muslim League will come in third place behind the party of the late Benazir Bhutto and the party of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, but it could hold the balance of power in the 342-seat parliament and decide who will form Pakistan's next government.
"If it is in the interests of Pakistan and in the interest of the people of Pakistan, certainly we don't mind having a coalition," Pervez Elahi, the candidate for prime minister from the party, commonly known as Q-League or PML (Q), told Reuters in an interview.
PML (Q) was cobbled together by the intelligence agencies as a powerbase for Musharraf from the rump of Sharif's party after he was ousted by Musharraf in 1999.
Both opposition parties complain that the government was trying to rig the poll in favour of PML (Q) -- a charge denied by Musharraf.
Asked which of the two main parties he would prefer to have as a coalition partner, Elahi said: "It's too early to answer this question because it all depends how the parties perform in the elections. To me they are one and the same."
Elahi was speaking on the way to an election rally in the village of Phoolnagar, near the eastern city of Lahore.
Some 2,000 supporters crammed into a walled enclosure under a heavy police cordon to hear the middle-aged career politician address them from a high-podium protected by bullet-proof glass.
Expects top position
Elahi said he did not believe opinion poll predictions and said he expected to come out on top with "a comfortable majority" due to the party's track record on education and healthcare.
One of the problems for PML (Q) is that if it bucks the opinion poll predictions and does well in the election it may lead to accusations of rigging.
Elahi said Pakistan could no longer afford to have a rigged election and party leaders needed to learn to accept defeat rather than crying foul.
"It is the duty of all the parties to start educating people to accept defeat and try to find out the problems, difficulties and flaws within their own ranks rather than blaming other people," he said as his armoured car sped through traffic flanked by police in pick-up trucks armed with Kalashnikov assault rifles.
Security is a big issue for party leaders in this election after the Dec. 27 assassination of Bhutto by suspected Islamist militants linked to al Qaeda and the Taliban.
Elahi said the only way to deal with the problem was "to adopt a two-pronged strategy using force and negotiations, because you can't always win the battle just by force, you have to sit at the table and you have to have negotiations".
Similarly the dispute over the Himalayan region of Kashmir, cause of two of the three wars between Pakistan and India in the last 60 years, also had to be resolved by compromise.
"We have to take some more steps and tackle the real problem which is Kashmir," he said. "Unless it is solved, we can't have a real relationship with India. If we say we want to have all of Kashmir, it is not possible, if India keeps on saying it is an integral part of India, that again won't solve the problem."