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Pakistani President Announces Referendum - 2002-04-06

Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf has announced Friday his plan to organize a national referendum to determine whether the people want him to remain in power.

In a televised speech to the nation, President Musharraf reiterated his commitment to hold general elections in October. But the self-appointed president said he wants the people of Pakistan to tell him whether he is required to play a role in the future national politics.

President Musharraf said the referendum will be held in the first week of May and the Election Commission of Pakistan will announce the final date and procedures. In his words, the move is meant to introduce "real democracy" in Pakistan.

President Musharraf says he has self-confidence, but this confidence will be strengthened if the 140 million people come forward and support him and his political and economic reforms.

Major political and religious parties have condemned the referendum move as unconstitutional and say, through this General Musharraf wants to influence the forthcoming elections. They have threatened to organize street protests to resist the move.

Pakistan has lived under military rule for half of its 55-year history. General Musharraf took power in a bloodless coup in 1999 that ousted the elected government of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Pakistan's Supreme Court validated the coup but ordered the military leader to restore civilian rule within three years. The court also authorised him to amend the constitution.

In his speech, President Musharraf promised to introduce certain amendments in the constitution, which he says, will provide a system of checks and balances to prevent abuse of power by elected governments in future.

Most of his speech was devoted to an account of his government's accomplishments in reforming the economy, fighting poverty, restoring law and order and combating religious extremism.