Stakes high for Musharraf as Pakistan votes tomorrow

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Islamabad, Feb 17 (UNI) Amid unprecedented security, Pakistan goes to the polls tomorrow in a violence-marred election in which the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) holds an edge against the backdrop of the assassination of its leader Benazir Bhutto.

The outcome of the election will also indicate what the future holds for President Pervez Musharraf as an overwhelming victory for the forces ranged against him may well bolster moves to further weaken his position by constitutional means.

The elections originally scheduled for January 8 were deferred till February 18 in the wake of Ms Bhutto's assassination.

A wave of suicide bombings across the country has taken the wind out of the poll campaign with only major political parties like the PPP and Nawaz Sharif's PML-N organising big rallies, that too rarely.

Though President Musharraf has time and again asserted that the polls would be conducted in a fair manner, the people of Pakistan as well as the international community remain sceptical that the establishment would do every thing to ensure that the results come out in its favour.

An audio tape was released by Human Rights Watch on Friday, in which Attorney General Malik Mohammad Qayyum was claimed to have been telling someone over the phone that the polls would be ''massively rigged''.

Apart from deteriorating law and order situation, rising inflation and power crisis, the biggest issue in these elections is the 64-year-old former General himself even though it is not a presidential election.

Doubts over the constitutionality of the former military ruler's election to the top post for a second term in October last year still remain and if his detractors emerge victorious in the polls, there was every possibility that the former commando might be impeached by Parliament.

Gen (retd) Musharraf invoked emergency in ... picking up from para eight, line one of DF 7, ELECTION-PAKISTAN.

UNI XC/AT RP RS1451

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