November 26, 2007

Pakistani Opposition Ready For Elections

Opposition figures Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif have thus far played coy about participating in the January 8th parliamentary elections. Although Bhutto told supporters she would decide on the elections last week, she has kept her options open. Sharif didn't rule out running for Parliament either, although his party had earlier called for boycotts.

Both have now signaled willingness to participate by registering as candidates:

Pakistan's former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has filed nomination papers for the country's general elections, but insists he may boycott the poll.

Mr Sharif says he will not stand for election unless President Pervez Musharraf lifts the state of emergency.

Benazir Bhutto has now filed papers for three parliamentary seats.

There are signs that Gen Musharraf will step down as head of the army and be sworn in for another term as president this week.

The next move rests with Musharraf. If he does not step down as Army chief of staff, the boycott will almost certainly begin. If he does resign that post but keep the emergency order in place, Sharif and Bhutto will likely call for the boycott, and for good reason; the PCO keeps them from campaigning in any effective manner.

Assuming that the PCO gets lifted, the election should help clarify Pakistani politics. It will give a sense of the status of the people after over eight years of Musharraf's direct rule and years of exile for opposition leaders. That status may help the US and the West assess their options in dealing with the roots of al-Qaeda and the Taliban, and analyze the options for working with the Pakistanis to eliminate them.

Interestingly, while Sharif claimed that he cut no deal with Musharraf to return to Pakistan, news agencies report that Musharraf wants Sharif to take on Bhutto. Musharraf must have been taken aback by the massive outpourings of support for Bhutto on her return, and perhaps felt threatened by her political popularity. He may believe the best option is to have the two former exiles split the opposition to his party and his rule -- and so perhaps Sharif may be telling the truth about making no deal for his return. He may just be what Musharraf believes he needs to keep the other two parties fighting with each other enough to keep him in power.


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