November 30, 2007

Bhutto To Campaign In Elections

Benazir Bhutto has declined to boycott the upcoming parliamentary elections in Pakistan -- at least for now. Instead of uniting with Nawaz Sharif in his refusal to engage in the January 8th polls, Bhutto has announced her intention to run, while holding onto the option of withdrawing if conditions change. The move leaves Sharif in the cold, and perhaps hints of a rapprochement between Bhutto and Musharraf:

Former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto was gearing up on Friday for a January election as another opposition leader, Nawaz Sharif, hoped to persuade her to boycott the vote.

Bowing to international pressure, President Pervez Musharraf stepped down on Wednesday as army chief and on Thursday, hours after taking the oath as civilian president, promised to lift emergency rule by December 16.

He also vowed that parliamentary elections would go ahead on January 8 and urged everyone, including Bhutto and Sharif, the prime minister he toppled in 1999, to take part on what he described as a level playing field.

Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party, the country's biggest party, said it had made a very difficult decision to take part in the election while reserving the right to withdraw.

Bhutto has some conditions for her participation. She wants the independent Elections Commission reinstated, and she also wants provincial allies of Musharraf suspended to keep any interference to a minimum. She's not likely to get her wish on the latter, but it may not make much difference. Bhutto has an opportunity to marginalize Sharif, and she appears ready to grasp it.

Sharif finds himself in a tough spot. First, he didn't get the same deal Bhutto received, and his criminal conviction for corruption leaves him ineligible to run for office anyway. With Bhutto rejecting his call for a boycott, Sharif risks having his party seriously underrepresented in parliament, which will leave the government in the hands of Bhutto and Musharraf.

Bhutto returned to Pakistan in hope of finding an alliance with Musharraf that would restore democracy and fight the terrorists -- or at least that's what the US hoped. That possibility remains, and it would keep Sharif and his party on the sidelines for the foreseeable future, if Musharraf really restores democracy. If Bhutto allies with Musharraf and the newly-civilian president continues his dictatorship by other means, Sharif will have avoided the taint of collaboration with a tyrant when the dictatorship eventually ends.

Sharif has a tough choice ahead of him. He will likely reverse himself and contest the elections, having left himself that opening. He didn't return to Pakistan to become a political analyst.


TrackBack URL for this entry: