Bhutto, Sharif Threaten Boycott of Elections

Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif - Pakistan's two major opposition leaders - are threatening to boycott next month's parliamentary elections unless President Pervez Musharraf offers some "guarantees" regarding the vote:

Emerging from more than three hours of talks, Sharif and Bhutto said at a late-night news conference that a committee of top lieutenants from each camp would draw up a list of demands for Musharraf within days. The two did not specify what the demands would be, but Bhutto made clear they would be more modest than what Sharif has sought.

She referred to the need for an independent election commission and neutral officials to oversee the vote but dodged questions about whether the opposition would insist on the reinstatement of the Supreme Court judges. "We are looking for concrete steps to ensure these elections are fair," she said.

The opposition, she said, planned to "throw the ball into the regime's court and take the next step, depending on what the regime does." While insisting that a boycott is an option, Bhutto said it is definitely not her preference.
The number one guarantee sought by both parties is the lifting of the State of Emergency Musharraf imposed last month. Beyond that, in addition to Bhutto's demands, Sharif has a few of his own:
Sharif has advocated a hard line against Musharraf, pledging to keep his party out of the parliamentary election unless the president reinstates the Supreme Court justices he fired last month when he suspended the constitution and imposed emergency rule.

But reinstatements are considered highly unlikely because getting rid of the judges is widely thought to have been Musharraf's main motivation for declaring the emergency. Musharraf has, in turn, pushed back at Sharif: On Monday, the government's election commission ruled that Sharif cannot run for parliament because of previous criminal convictions, which he asserts were politically motivated. The decision makes him ineligible to become prime minister again even if his party competes and wins a plurality of seats on Jan. 8.
Musharraf will probably relent and allow Sharif to run for Parliament if only to legitimize the vote by keeping Sharif's coalition from bolting and refusing to participate in the election.

This is an odd marriage between Sharif and Bhutto and won't last very long. But if it facilitates a fair election, then it will have been for the better.