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Musharraf Wins Extension of Term - 2002-05-01

Official results from Pakistan's presidential referendum show President Musharraf has won overwhelming approval to extend his term by five years, winning more than 97 percent of the vote. Pakistan's Election Commission says more than 43 million Pakistanis voted in the referendum and more than 42 million voted to approve the measure. Opposition parties and some independent observers say there were widespread irregularities in the polling.

Chief Election Commissioner Irshad Hassan Khan says the turnout for Tuesday's referendum was over 70 percent, a new record for voter participation in Pakistan.

Pakistan's independent human rights commission says there were widespread irregularities in the polling including many cases of people voting on multiple occasions. Pakistan's opposition political parties say turnout was far lower than the government claims.

Pakistan's information minister Nisar Memon admits irregularities, but says they were minor and did not affect the outcome.

"Insofar as the results are concerned I think they would not be impacted by any kind of a situation," he said. "These were not of a massive kind of thing that may have happened. Individuals may have acted and if they did they should be brought to book charges. Because nobody is above the law."

Analysts say General Musharraf, who seized power in 1999 called the snap referendum to secure his political position before nationwide parliamentary 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 activity in the country.

"They are free to make speeches, they are free to communicate with the people," he said. "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.