Support for Musharraf at bottom low, says poll

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Washington, Feb 11 (UNI) Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf's popularity has hit an all time low, exactly a week before the crucial parliamentary elections in the country, according to a poll.

In another strong indication how difficult it would be for the former military ruler to cling on to power, the poll found that the two main opposition parties-- the PPP and the PML(N)-- had a combined backing of an overwhelming 72 per cent.

Gen (retd) Musharraf had the approval of just 15 per cent of those surveyed.

''I don't know if his numbers could go any lower...He's probably at his floor,'' said Robert Varsalone, country director for the International Republican Institute, the nonprofit US-based organisation that conducted the poll.

Amid widespread fears that the ruling PML-Q may rig elections, a majority of respondents said they would back protests if the ruling coalition would be announced as the winner.

The poll also indicated that the Pakistan People's Party of assassinated former prime minister Benazir Bhutto has gained substantial leads and may emerge as the single largest party.

The PML-N of another former prime minister Nawaz Sharif is also expected to fare reasonably well.

''Even before Benazir's assassination there was a strong and growing feeling that Musharraf had run his course,'' Isobel Coleman of the Council on Foreign Relations was quoted by Washington Post as saying.

Apart from imposition of emergency and sacking of judges, other factors for the plummetting support for President Musharraf include rising inflation, surging violence and electricity shortage.

The poll of 3,845 adults was conducted Jan. 19-29 and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 1.69 percentage points.

UNI XC YA KP1208

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