Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf announced on April 5 that a referendum on the extension of his presidential authority for an additional five years will be held in the country in May. The general seems to not bee too sure that he can win regular elections. The response of the leading Pakistani political parties to the statement was surprisingly unanimous. The 15-party Alliance for the Restoration of Democracy (ARD) said it would boycott the referendum. Spokesmen for the alliance (political parties of ex-prime ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif are also members of the alliance) declared Musharraf’s initiative unconstitutional.
Leaders of a recently founded United Action Committee, consisting of members of the six leading religious parties, also condemn the referendum idea. In addition, fundamentalists demand that Musharraf should withdraw US troops from Pakistan and stop supporting the operations being carried out in Afghanistan.
At the same time, it is not correct to say that the Islamic and temporal parties make up an indivisible front, as they have only one thing in common, their aversion of the Pakistani president. In fact, their objectives are different. ARD leaders have already declared their support of the anti-terrorism operation in Afghanistan. However, it is not ruled out that they do it only because they are themselves in exile in the West. The fundamentalists consider Pakistan to be an Islamic state, where no temporal institutions can exist, and no democracy, as it is understood by the West, can be spoken about in this case.
Pervez Musharraf is unlikely to give up the referendum idea. Despite the fact that majority of politicians and religious activists condemn his plans, they, at the same time, they offer no other effective alternative. The incumbent president of Pakistan is supported by the army, and this means quite a lot. Thus, the indignation of most politicians is unlikely to produce any effect, and the referendum will be held all the same to extend Musharraf’s presidency. A quite different problem is whether or not the action is legal. We remember perfectly well when Musharraf came to power by means of a military coup. He is already experienced at breaking the laws.
Vasily Bubnov PRAVDA.Ru
Translated by Maria Gousseva
Read the original in Russian: http://www.pravda.ru/main/2002/04/09/39441.html