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Parliamentary Elections Viewed as Credibility Test for Musharraf


Pakistan's parliamentary elections scheduled for early January are expected to be a key indicator of the country's political future and an important credibility test for Pakistan's President General Pervez Musharraf. The country's Supreme Court is still to rule on the legality of Mr. Musharraf's landslide victory in Saturday's presidential elections. VOA's Barry Newhouse reports from Islamabad that because General Musharraf's re-election bid has been mired in court challenges, political analysts say voters must believe the general elections are legitimate.

When Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz announced Wednesday that parliamentary elections will be held in early January, he stressed that the vote will be fair and open to outside observers.

Political analyst and former Senator Shafqat Mahmood says many Pakistanis are disappointed in the court rulings and alleged back-room political deal-making that led lawmakers to re-elect President Musharraf Saturday to a five-year term.

"Therefore if there is a possibility of salvaging some credibility, I think it is imperative that the next election, the general election, is free and fair in which everybody can participate and there is no government manipulation," the senator said.

Prime Minister Aziz says the current government will be dissolved on November 15 and an impartial caretaker government will be appointed to oversee the January elections.

But analysts say that given the controversies over the presidential vote, there is skepticism that the caretaker government will organize a fair election.

A new opinion poll reports that public support for General Musharraf is at an all time low and 73 percent of Pakistanis believe the ruling coalition does not deserve to be re-elected.

Hassan Askari is a political analyst who says officials have not addressed public concerns over stagnant wages and rising food prices, causing disenchantment among voters.

"This alienation is dangerous in the sense that if the population gets alienated from the main political parties, then they are more vulnerable to the extremist Islamic appeals," he said.

There is also widespread public concern over an escalating military campaign along the Afghan border that has seen some of the most violent clashes in Pakistan in years. In recent days, at least 250 people including 45 soldiers have died in the fighting.

Professor Ishtiaq Ahmed at Qaid-I-Azam University in Islamabad says many voters see the military campaign as an extension of U.S. counterterrorism policies, which have been unpopular among the Pakistani public.

"Somehow in this counter-terrorism campaign, Pakistan's relationship with the United States has really come to play quite a significant role even in the domestic politics of Pakistan," he said.

Political observers say that given Pakistan's tumultuous politics in recent weeks, it is impossible to predict the outcome of January's general elections. But they say that regardless of the outcome, the country's political leadership could face grave consequences if voters lose confidence in the legitimacy of the polls.