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Pakistan Votes on Extending Musharraf Rule - 2002-04-30

Pakistanis voted Tuesday in a controversial referendum on whether President Pervez Musharraf should extend his rule by another five years. Final results are expected Wednesday on the referendum that opposition politicians are calling undemocratic and unconstitutional.

The 9:30 express to the southern Pakistan city, Quetta, pulled out of the Rawalpindi train station early Tuesday, with many on board saying they had taken the time to vote before boarding the train.

There were polling booths in all of Pakistan's train stations. Nearly 90,000 booths had been set up across the country in schools, government offices and even hospitals. All Pakistani's had to do to vote was show up and present some rudimentary identification.

As he ran to catch his train to Quetta, after casting his ballot, Arshad Mansoor, an officer in Pakistan's armed forces, said he fully supports General Musharraf's goal of extending his term by five years.

"Everybody knows that whatever President Musharraf is doing is in absolutely meant in the favor of Pakistan," he said. "So, I think it is better that now we realize that we have to vote for him so that Pakistan will go up."

General Musharraf, declared himself president last year. He seized power in 1999, ousting Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who many Pakistanis say presided over one of the most corrupt and ineffectual governments to rule Pakistan since independence in 1947.

Opposition politicians have denounced the referendum. Speaking several days ago at an opposition rally in Lahore, Akram Zaki, the deputy president of the Pakistan Muslim League, said General Musharraf is following in the footsteps of previous Pakistani military rulers, who he says have attempted to legitimize their seizure of power through the ballot box.

"Four times, the chief of army staff, in our history, has violated the constitution and overthrown elected assemblies.," he said "So, the struggle is basically to establish the principle: Are we going to have a rule of law or are we going to have the rule of the gun."

President Musharraf's rallies have been far larger than those of the opposition; but critics of the general say they have been largely made up of government workers, a charge hotly denied by the President.

Critics also say many of those voting on Tuesday were told to do so by their employers, a charge denied by government officials and by railway worker Amanullah Khan, who says he proudly cast his ballot for President Musharraf at the Rawalpindi station.

"I came here by my own wish. Nobody asked me to come here - I came here on my own and I will vote my president," he said. "I like him, he is really a good man, a good person, a good thinker."

Final results are expected Wednesday and although no one doubts the outcome that President Musharraf will win his referendum the margin of victory will be closely watched say analysts who say a very low turnout could jeopardize President Musharraf's hopes of establishing himself as the legitimate ruler of Pakistan's 140 million citizens.