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December 10, 2007
Pakistan Opposition Parties Agree not to Boycott Elections
In something of a victory for President Pervez Musharraf (and American diplomats who had been working furiously behind the scenes) the two major opposition parties have agreed to participate in next month's parliamentary elections:
The participation of the main opposition parties would grant some credibility to Mr. Musharraf. Opposition groups that support a boycott argue that fair elections would be impossible with the country still under emergency rule, a muzzled news media and a pro-Musharraf caretaker government, election commission and newly appointed Supreme Court in place. The two leaders can't stand the sight of each other so the possibility of uniting the opposition after the election are slim and none. However, there's a chance that Bhutto's Pakistani People's Party will win enough seats that she will be able to attract some smaller parties to her standard and achieve a majority that way. Otherwise, Musharraf will probably be in the driver's seat as he could keep the opposition split while gathering his share of smaller parties to insure his rule.
Ms. Bhutto said her Pakistan Peoples Party would participate in the elections in order to force them to be open and to prevent the pro-Musharraf coalition from winning a majority.
“We believe it is important to take part under protest because by boycotting we play into the hands of Musharraf,” she said in a telephone interview on Sunday from her home in the United Arab Emirates, where she spent the weekend. Mr. Musharraf has said he will lift emergency rule on Sunday and has pledged to hold “fair and free elections according to the Constitution.”
Meanwhile, Mr. Sharif’s marshaling of his supporters represents a strong challenge to Mr. Musharraf. Mr. Sharif leads a faction of the Pakistan Muslim League and his base of support is Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous province and the most important in the electoral college. His participation is likely to cut into the strength of the bloc of the Pakistan Muslim League that supports Mr. Musharraf.
But Sharif's challenge to Musharraf is a serious one although his record on corruption will not be forgotten. Much depends on whether Musharraf keeps his promise to raise the state of emergency and open up the press. If he does so, he will probably prevail.