Bhutto unveils her election platform
Keeps option open of boycotting Pakistan ballot
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - Benazir Bhutto presented her election platform yesterday, dimming the prospect of an opposition boycott that could undermine President Pervez Musharraf's efforts to show Pakistan is returning to democracy.
Musharraf has left open the possibility of working with Bhutto after the Jan. 8 parliamentary elections. Both are secular leaders who vow to take a tough line against Islamic extremism, and an alliance between the two would be welcomed in the West.
Another powerful opposition leader insisted Musharraf reverse a purge of the judiciary that allowed him to secure a new term as a civilian head of state. The president stepped down as army chief Wednesday under a plan to guide this nuclear-armed nation of 160 million people back toward democracy eight years after he seized power in a coup.
Bhutto, a two-time prime minister who returned to Pakistan from exile in October, was the first major political leader to present a platform for the election campaign.
"We're worried about the elections, we have our reservations, but we're going in under protest," Bhutto said in an interview. "We hope as we participate we can try and improve the situation."
Musharraf was sworn in Thursday for a new five-year presidential term and quickly announced that he intended to lift a state of emergency by Dec. 16 and restore the constitution before the elections - key demands of his domestic critics and his Western backers.
Bhutto said her party could yet join a boycott of the ballot - a move that would deepen Pakistan political chaos, but win popular support for its advocates because of Musharraf's unpopularity.
She is still calling for a shake-up of the election commission and the suspension of local mayors who she alleges will try to manipulate the vote.
But she has said shunning the contest would only leave the field open to pro-Musharraf parties, who insist they remain popular because of the country's economic recovery.
Bhutto says a boycott would only make sense if the entire opposition agreed. That seems unlikely, given the deep rivalries between the country's leaders.
Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif has taken a much harder course against Musharraf, who ousted, jailed and then exiled him after the 1999 coup. Sharif, who returned from exile Sunday, said Musharraf must reinstate the Supreme Court judges fired under emergency rule, to ensure the elections will not be rigged.
Musharraf dismissed the justices just before they were to rule on whether his new presidential term was constitutional. On Thursday, he accused them of conspiring to derail his efforts to restore democracy. New judges have since approved his fresh mandate.
"We are saying: 'Please, please for heaven's sake restore the judiciary. . . . Don't force us to boycott the elections,' " Sharif said in a telephone interview. "If there [are] free and fair elections we can win. . . . But there is no point in Musharraf taking off his uniform or lifting emergency rule unless the judiciary is reinstated with dignity and honor."
The platform of Bhutto's left-leaning Pakistan People's Party promised more funds for education, health, and environmental protection. Cheap loans would help small businesses create jobs, she said. Its white cover bears pictures of herself and her father, another former premier who was ousted and hanged in 1979 under Pakistan's previous military ruler.