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US 'Non-Committal' on Pakistani Presidential Extension - 2002-05-01


The United States was non-committal Wednesday on the referendum that gave Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf another five years in office. The State Department says it sees the national and provincial elections to be held in October as a more important test of Mr. Musharraf's commitment to democracy.

The United States was strongly critical of Mr. Musharraf's seizure of power in a military coup in 1999 and later of his assumption of the state presidency.

But the Pakistani leader has since become a key ally in the U.S. campaign again terrorism. And the Bush administration is making no judgement about Tuesday's referendum that will extend his term in office for five more years.

Briefing reporters here, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said it is for the Pakistani people to judge what the referendum in which Mr. Musharraf got 97 per cent of the votes cast means to the country's political future.

He said the United States primary interest is seeing a legitimate return to democratic rules through free and fair elections and believes the most crucial element in that will be the provincial and national elections planned for October. "President Musharraf has promised to bring Pakistan back to democratic rule," Mr. Boucher said. "He has confirmed repeatedly the elections on a national and a provincial level to be held in October.

"We've always focused on that as an important milestone in terms of achieving a return to democracy. And that remains what we're focused on at this point. He has promised to do it, he has moved in that direction, he has reiterated the promises, and he's also made some fairly significant statements about the general course that he intends to lead Pakistan in."

Mr. Boucher said the United States looks forward to a period of "healthy political debate" in advance of the October vote in which all the parties can expressed their views freely and bring their case to the public without hindrance.

President Musharraf has said he needs the five years in power to implement wide-ranging reforms. Opposition political figures have criticized the referendum as unconstitutional and say it amounts to a military takeover of the government through the ballot box.

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