Uncertainty shrouds Pakistan election date

Updated on Nov 06, 2007 01:09 PM IST

Despite US pressure, analysts feel Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf is likely to hold off on elections until he has cemented his grip on power.

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AFP | By, Islamabad

Despite US pressure and soothing words from the government, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf is likely to hold off on elections until he has cemented his grip on power, analysts say.

The government has given out mixed signals since Musharraf declared a state of emergency late on Saturday and suspended the constitution, sparking a global outcry and calls for a swift return to democracy.

Eight years after he grabbed power in a bloodless coup, he cited a wave of Islamist violence and a meddling Supreme Court as key factors in his move.

But Musharraf's step has thrown the political future of the nuclear-armed nation into chaos, notably over general elections scheduled for January 2008 and his previous promises to abandon his dual role as army chief.

"Before holding elections Musharraf would like to secure himself," analyst Hasan Askari, the former head of political science at Punjab University, told AFP.

"He needs two things for security. One is that he is president for the next five years, the second is that he continues as army chief as long as he wishes to do so.

"As long as these securities are not available he is not expected to hold elections or return to constitutional rule."

While lawyers protested on Monday in several cities across Pakistan, Musharraf was reassuring foreign diplomats he would hold general elections "as close as possible to the schedule" despite emergency rule, his spokesman said.

Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz was more specific on timing, saying they would be "on schedule," and the attorney general said parliament would be dissolved on November 15 and the general elections held before mid-January.

But government spokesman Tariq Azeem told AFP on Tuesday that there was no decision yet about when the polls would in fact go ahead.

Musharraf's own future had been in doubt before emergency rule because of a pending Supreme Court verdict on the legality of his re-election for another five years in a vote on October 6.

He had promised to hang up his uniform by November 15 if his victory in the election was confirmed, but deputy information minister Tariq Azeem said that commitment was now "in limbo."

US President George Bush, normally his staunchest supporter, called on him to end the emergency, quit as army chief and restore democratic rule.

Analysts agreed that the best policy was for Musharraf to end the state of emergency as soon as possible.

"The only viable option for him is to backtrack and roll back his November 3 actions," said newspaper columnist and analyst Nasim Zehra.

"If indeed the reason for this virtual martial law was to fight terrorism and extremism then he is not likely to rid Pakistan of it," added Zehra.

"Turning around and restoring basic rights, independence of judiciary and media, getting the political parties on board, that is the only option.

"He will have to roll back the November 3 action."

As well as Bush, many of Pakistan's allies and the United Nations have also called on Musharraf to hold the elections as planned and end emergency rule.

But Musharraf, a former army commando who has expressed his admiration for French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte and late US President Richard Nixon, has in the past rarely shown himself amenable to outside suggestions.

Rasul Baksh Rais, political scientist at Lahore's University of Management Sciences, said "judging from (Monday's) protests in every major city, I think his only option is to change his track otherwise he will be in trouble."

But he cautioned that this was unlikely to happen.

"Musharraf might consider holding elections soon but the conditions created after emergency are not likely to help (the) peaceful conduct of elections.

"Musharraf wants to survive in power at all cost."

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