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Sharif's Party Decides to Participate in Pakistan Elections


Campaigning for January elections has begun following the decision by the political party of Pakistan's former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to participate. Opposition parties had threatened to stay away from the election to reduce the legitimacy of President Pervez Musharraf, but the main opposition parties failed to agree on a plan. Daniel Schearf reports from Islamabad.

Election campaigning began in earnest Monday, a day after former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his party decided not to boycott polls called by President Pervez Musharraf for January 8.

Sharif began touring the country to increase support for his Pakistan Muslim League-N party.

The PML-N had tried to organize an opposition boycott of the elections after Mr. Musharraf declared a "state of emergency" in November and replaced the Supreme Court.

But another former Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto and her Pakistan People's Party, the largest in Pakistan, decided to contest the elections rather than leave the field open for Mr. Musharraf to dominate.

Ahsan Iqbal, the spokesman for Sharif's party said it was then forced to make the same strategic decision.

"Our first preference was that all opposition parties should collectively boycott the elections to deny any credibility or legitimacy to this election," said Iqbal. "But, unfortunately, Pakistan People's Party, Ms. Bhutto's party, did not agree with us and they said that they would participate in elections regardless."

Iqbal says Ms. Bhutto's party also refused to support the PML-N's demand that Supreme Court judges deposed by Mr. Musharraf be reinstated before the election.

The PML-N and others say the elections are less likely to be free and fair if the Supreme Court remains stacked with Musharraf loyalists.

Mr. Musharraf imposed a state of emergency in November, fired Supreme Court justices who refused to swear an oath of loyalty, and clamped down on independent media.

Mr. Musharraf said the power play was justified to prevent "interference" in other institutions and in efforts to fight terrorism, a key issue of Pakistan's allies in Washington. However, analysts have noted that Mr. Musharraf demanded Supreme Court loyalty just a few days before they were to rule on the legitimacy of his presidential candidacy.

Washington has repeatedly expressed disappointment in its close ally and urged Mr. Musharraf to lift the state of emergency and controls on the media and opposition politicians.

President Musharraf has said he will end the state of emergency on December 15 and, despite repeated attempts to silence opponents, has promised free and fair elections.

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