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Friday, 5 April, 2002, 20:14 GMT 21:14 UK
Vote on Musharraf rule set for May
Pakistanis watch Musharraf's TV address in a shop in Karachi
Musharraf made the announcement in a TV address
Pakistan is to hold a referendum in the first week of May to decide whether General Pervez Musharraf should continue as president for five more years.


Let the entire world know that I'm not alone. Behind me are the 140 million people in Pakistan

General Pervez Musharraf
President Musharraf - who seized power in a bloodless coup in 1999 - announced the referendum date in a nationwide television address.

The former prime ministers and opposition leaders, Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, will not be allowed to return to Pakistan. President Musharraf said they had "no role in Pakistani politics".

The BBC's Zaffar Abbas in Islamabad says the general wants the support of the people to legitimise his stay as president, but without shedding his military uniform.

The Commonwealth has given a cool response to the announcement, saying a referendum was not part of the "roadmap" it had agreed with Pakistan for restoring democracy.

"The Commonwealth would urge the application of established constitutional processes to decide on the election of national democratic institutions," said Commonwealth Secretary General Don McKinnon.

Boycott

"Let the entire world know, and Pakistanis, especially those who want to derail and destabilise Pakistan, that I'm not alone. Behind me are the 140 million people in Pakistan," the president said.

"In the past two-and-a-half years we have done a lot and I think whatever we have done in whatever field will go to waste if we do not cap it with true democracy or the essence of democracy," he said.


Musharraf has proved that he is a dictator and a very much power-hungry man

Pakistan Muslim League
Opponents have accused President Musharraf of side-stepping constitutional procedure by calling the referendum ahead of October's elections for a new parliament.

Under Pakistan's constitution, the president is chosen by an electoral college comprosed by the members of the two houses of parliament and the four provincial assemblies.

"The people of Pakistan must reject this insult to the constitution. They will," said Ms Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party.

"[Musharraf] has proved that he is a dictator and a very much power-hungry man," said the Pakistan Muslim League of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

The two parties plan to boycott the referendum.

Political shake-up

But the president says it is necessary to provide continuity in his programme of reform, as well as give him a mandate for some administrative shake-ups.

Protesters against Musharraf's policies burn a US flag
Musharraf's alliance with the war on terror has created enemies at home
He said there was a need for a new system of checks and balances between Pakistan's three powerbrokers - the president, the prime minister and the chief of the army.

He also called for a National Security Council to allow the military and civilian leadership jointly to oversee the workings of parliament.

International support

The general has won international support because of his decision to join the coalition in the war against terrorism.

But his alliance with the United States has angered some Pakistanis, particularly in the religious parties.

"We reject the referendum and ask people not to participate in it," said the leader of Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam, Maulana Fazlur Rehman, at a rally of about 1,500 people in the north-western city of Peshawar.

"They should hold a referendum on the presence of US forces in our bases and FBI agents in our country," he said.

There are doubts about whether the president can succeed in getting enough people to go out and vote.

Analysts say that if he wins a referendum on a small turn-out, that would weaken his mandate rather than legitimising it, as he hopes to do.

President Musharraf announced the voting age would be brought down from 21 to 18, to allow more people to take part.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Raphael Jesurum
"Ballot box approval seeking could backfire"
Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf
"I want you to tell me whether I am required or not"
MJ Gohel from the Asia Pacific Foundation
"This is a very sad day for Pakistan"
See also:

05 Apr 02 | South Asia
Analysis: Musharraf's referendum gamble
03 Apr 02 | South Asia
Musharraf goes for 'Zia option'
03 Apr 02 | South Asia
Musharraf poll approved
13 Mar 02 | South Asia
Musharraf warns opposition leaders
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