Thousands of Pakistani's turned out Saturday at a protest rally in the city of Lahore to voice their opposition to the April 30 referendum on extending President Pervez Musharraf's rule for five years. The protest took place as Pakistan's Supreme Court rejected an opposition plea to halt the referendum.
It was a boisterous but peaceful crowd made up largely of political activists numbering in the thousands. They gathered in the shadow of Lahore's ancient monuments to call for President General Pervez Musharraf to scrap his referendum.
Lahore is the opposition stronghold of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif -now exiled in Saudia Arabia by the man who replaced him, General Musharraf in a bloodless coup in 1999.
The Lahore rally, officially sanctioned by the Musharraf government, was organized by the 15-party Alliance for the Restoration of Democracy. It was a rare occasion for Pakistan's two largest political parties, the Pakistan People's Party and Pakistan Muslim League, to join forces against what they say is yet another takeover of civilian rule by Pakistan's military establishment. Akram Zaki is the Deputy President of the Pakistan Muslim League.
"Our struggle is for the supremacy of the constitution and supremacy of the law," he said. "The basic question is does the sovereignty rest with the people of Pakistan and their elected representative. Do we want a sovereign parliament, or do we want a sovereign chief of army staff."
Pakistan's Supreme Court on Saturday dismissed an opposition plea to halt the April 30 referendum on extending General Musharraf's presidential term for another five years. The decision disappointed many in the crowd like Malik, a local government representative, who like many Pakistani's, displays an ambivalence toward General Musharraf - welcoming his pledges of reform - but wary of yet another military takeover of Pakistan's government.
"I don't want to say to Musharraf; 'go.' I say Musharraf is ok, but we have to have fair elections," he said. "Everybody should have equal rights in Pakistan. That is what I say."
While many in the crowd said they did not want to, or plan to vote on April 30, none said they expected General Musharraf to lose the referendum. There are no alternate candidates to vote for, and a massive get-out-the vote campaign over the past few weeks, believed to have cost tens of millions of dollars, assures General Musharraf of victory on April 30.