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Benazir gave me no option: Sharif

Nirupama Subramanian

PML (N) to participate in elections

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Muslim League (Q), an ally of President Pervez Musharraf, said on Monday Nawaz Sharif-led PML (N)’s decision to participate in the election had ensured that the exercise would be credible.

“We welcome Nawaz Sharif’s decision to participate in the election. The credibility of the election is now complete,” said party president Chaudhary Shujat Hussain, as he unveiled the PML (Q) manifesto.

But the decision left the pro-boycott lobby within the All Parties Democratic Movement, a 33-party group that Mr. Sharif midwifed earlier this year, fuming.

At a meeting in Lahore, the APDM’s other major constituents including the Jamat-e-Islami, Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, and smaller regional parties expelled the PML (N) and the Awami National Party from the group.

Judges issue

Mahmood Khan Achakzai, leader of the Pakhtunkwa Milli Awami Party is the convenor of the slim-look APDM. JI leader Qazi Hussain Ahmed said Mr. Sharif had let down the people.

But the former Prime Minister defended the decision as forced upon him by Benazir Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party. Speaking to Dawn News television, he said a boycott had to be a unanimous decision by all opposition parties, but the PPP’s determination to contest had left him with no other option.

Mr. Sharif, who had earlier hinged his party’s participation in the election on the single issue of the reinstatement of the judges dismissed on November 3, said their restoration remained the PML(N)’s “first priority.”

The PML (N)’s decision to join the election race came after a marathon seven-hour APDM meeting on Sunday in Mr. Sharif’s Raiwind home outside Lahore, at which the constituent parties failed to agree on whether they should stand firm on a boycott despite the intention of two opposition parties, the PPP and the Jamiat-e-Ulema Islami, to contest the election. The JuI is a constituent of the APDM – it did not attend Sunday’s meeting – while the PPP is not.

Opposition to the boycott came from within Mr. Sharif’s own party. The meeting ended by permitting all constituents to make their own decisions. The PML (N) said it would contest as it could not leave the field open to others. Though the PML(N) leader has been disqualified from running, the party said he would lead the election campaign. Mr. Sharif has said he intends to convert the election campaign into “anti-Musharraf campaign.”

Meanwhile, the party that ruled Pakistan from 2002 until it completed its term last month and made way for a caretaker government, launched its manifesto saying it wants to put an end to the culture of violence and revenge and bring in reconciliation.

Secretary-general Mushahid Hussain said the manifesto was based on “five Ds” – democracy, development, devolution, diversity and defence – setting up an alphabet war against the PPP that launched a manifesto last month based on “five Es” – employment, education, energy, environment and equality”.

The PML (Q) was General (retd.) Musharraf’s political sheet-anchor and supported changes to the Constitution that strengthened his office, but Mr. Hussain said on Monday that his party “rejects the presidential form of government” and recalled that Pakistan was meant to be a parliamentary democracy at its founding.

Mr. Hussain also said dissent was an essential part of democracy. The PML (Q)’s election motto provided further irony. “Jiyo aur Jeene Do” – live and let live – is identical to the motto of Geo TV, the only television station that General Musharraf has not permitted back on the country’s cable network.

In Pakistan, activists marked the World Human Rights day on Monday as a “black day” and held protests against the emergency. In the capital, a combined protest of journalists, lawyers and civil society activists took out a rally from the city Press Club to the offices of Geo, chanting “Go Musharraf Go”, and “We want Freedom.”

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