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Musharraf Assured of Referendum Win


Official final results from Pakistan's presidential referendum are expected within hours, but, with most of the ballots already counted, President Pervez Musharraf is assured of winning his bid to extend his term by five years. Opposition leaders are protesting the results and what they call widespread voting irregularities on Tuesday.

About the only thing the opposition and government agree on is that voting was peaceful.

Opposition political parties, who called for a boycott of the referendum, say there were widespread irregularities in the polling, with many documented cases of people voting on multiple occasions. Opposition parties also say turnout was far lower than what the government claims.

Pakistan's Information Minister Nisar Memon says the government achieved its goal of getting a seal of approval from Pakistani voters, who he says have benefited from General Musharraf's rule.

"I think the government has been able to pass the message of what achievements there were in the last two and a half years."

General Musharraf seized power in 1999 and declared himself president, last year. Analysts say he called the snap referendum to secure his political position before nationwide parliament elections are held in October. Under Pakistan's constitution, parliament elects the country's president.

Rasul Baksh Rais, who heads the Area Studies Center at Islamabad's Quaidi-I-Azam University, says General Musharraf's referendum has had an unintended side-effect. He says Pakistan's opposition parties, dormant since General Musharraf seized power in 1999, have resurfaced during the referendum campaign, opening the door to a resumption of political life in the country.

"They are free to make speeches, they are free to communicate with the people, and I think they can use the next six months, or four or five months, leading to the general elections to keep that level of political mobilization."

Although opposition Pakistani political figures have criticized the referendum as unconstitutional, saying it amounts to a military takeover of the government through the ballot box, there has been little international criticism.

Commonwealth officials, who suspended Pakistan from the organization following General Musharraf's coup in 1999, say they are monitoring developments. U.S. officials, who say President Musharraf has been indispensable in helping the fight against terrorism, have also refrained from any criticism that could hurt their close ally.

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