The party of slain opposition leader Benazir Bhutto said it would try to remove President Pervez Musharraf if it wins next week's parliamentary elections. Although Musharraf is not up for re-election, he could face impeachment if the opposition wins a commanding majority in the legislature.
"The ouster of Musharraf will put Pakistan back on the track of real democracy," Babar Awan, a member of the central executive council of the Pakistan People's Party, told The Associated Press on Friday.
Recent opinion surveys ahead of Monday's balloting show the party running well ahead of Musharraf supporters. "We will win if the elections are not massively rigged," Awan said.
Awan's comments came a day after Musharraf warned his opponents not to immediately claim fraud and stage demonstrations after the vote.
Another opposition party, headed by ex-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, rejected Musharraf's warning, saying it would stage nationwide protests if it believes the election was manipulated. "We know Musharraf wants to rig the elections," said Sadiq ul-Farooq, a senior member of Sharif's party. "If he did it, we will force him to quit through street protests." The elections are taking place against a backdrop of rising Islamic militancy in Pakistan, particularly in the northwest. Tens of thousands of soldiers were on alert to provide security for Monday's vote and its aftermath.
The United States is Musharraf's principal foreign supporter because of his role in the war against terrorism. But US diplomats have expressed concern that growing public resentment of Musharraf threatens to tarnish America's image in Pakistan. A survey released this week by the US government-funded International Republican Institute said half the Pakistanis polled planned to vote for Bhutto's party and 22 percent backed Sharif's party. Only 14 percent favored the ruling PML-Q.
The poll of 3,845 adults was conducted Jan. 19-29 and has a margin of error of plus or minus about 2 percentage points. The December 27 assassination of Bhutto and a string of suicide bombings, some targeting campaign rallies, have been blamed on Al-Qaeda- or Taliban-linked militants.
Police said on Friday they had arrested another suspect in Bhutto's assassination, the fifth so far in the probe into her death.