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Tuesday, 14 August, 2001, 12:52 GMT 13:52 UK
Musharraf's 'roadmap to democracy'
President Pervez Musharraf
Many believe Musharraf wants to remain a central figure
By Susannah Price in Islamabad

General Pervez Musharraf's roadmap for a return to democracy is far more specific than had been predicted.

He has decided to hold the polls at the last possible moment.

General Musharraf's emphasis in his independence day speeches has been on grass-roots democracy.

In May last year the Supreme court ruled that while General Musharraf was justified in taking over power, the military should hand back to civilian rule within three years of the coup.

The deadline is 12 October 2002, the day after General Musharraf plans to finish the election process.

Many questions regarding the election process remain unanswered, and it is not clear whether political parties will be allowed to compete or not.

They were not allowed to take part in the local election process which has just finished - but it was widely known that those who ended up in powerful positions heading the district councils belong to political parties or families.

Conditional welcome

Raja Zafarul Haq of the Pakistan Moslem League welcomed the plan, but said political parties had to be allowed to be part of the process.

Benazir Bhutto, former prime minister of Pakistan
Benazir Bhutto: Persona non grata
General Musharraf has made it clear he does not want to see either of the former prime ministers Benazir Bhutto or Nawaz Sharif return to the country.

He has said that if Ms Bhutto, currently living abroad, came back she would face immediate arrest. Mr Sharif, who was imprisoned after the coup, is now in exile in Saudi Arabia.

But if either of their parties won the election, they might want to return.

Musharraf's role unclear

General Musharraf did not discuss his own role during the two long speeches he made.

General Musharraf at Pakistan's Independence Day ceremony
President Musharraf: Questions remain over his future role
He took the title of president in June at the same time as he dissolved the national and provincial assemblies.

However, he has given no indication that he intends to give up the post, which is mainly ceremonial, either before or after the elections.

Some analysts believe he may try to amend the constitution to give himself greater powers. The roadmap outlined today allows time for such amendments.

Critics say this could also allow for a role for the army and would mean only a limited democracy.

The deputy secretary-general of Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party, Raza Rabbani, said that bringing in a quasi-presidential form of government would be tantamount to changing the basic structure of the constitution.

'Grass-roots democracy'

General Musharraf's emphasis in his independence day speeches has been on grass-roots democracy.

During his address to the newly elected councillors, he talked about taking government to the people. The local elections were phase one of his plan to do this.

Pakistan has been ruled by the military for half of the 54 years it has been in existence. None of the previous three military rulers handed power back to the people despite their promises.

The international community will now be watching closely to see if General Musharraf will be the first.

See also:

14 Aug 01 | South Asia
Pakistan's return to democracy set out
17 Mar 01 | South Asia
Pakistan may lift opposition media ban
12 Oct 00 | South Asia
Pakistan: Still out in the cold?
23 Mar 00 | South Asia
Pakistan sets election timetable
23 Mar 00 | South Asia
Profile: General Pervez Musharraf
21 Mar 01 | South Asia
Analysis: Democracy or lip-service?
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