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Thursday, 27 June, 2002, 14:39 GMT 15:39 UK
Musharraf's power plan
Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf
The package indicates Musharraf's fears about elections

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has been accumulating power ever since he took over in a 1999 coup.

The Pakistan National Assembly
Under the reforms Musharraf would have the power to dissolve the National Assembly
He is already president, chief executive, chief of army staff and defence minister.

His latest proposals to change the constitution would mean that he remains the key figure in Pakistani politics after election this coming October.

Shortly after the coup, General Musharraf made a clear promise to hand power back to civilian politicians after three years.

But in April he organised a referendum in which he stated he wanted to remain as president for another five years.

'Democratic veneer'

Despite the U-turn, senior army officers insist that General Musharraf's "three years" pledge is being honoured.

They maintain that the October elections will allow civilian politicians to campaign for popular support.

And they point out that after the elections the National Assembly and the Senate will be revived.

But the civilian politicians will have very few powers.

Under his proposed package of reforms, General Musharraf will have the right to sack the prime minister and dissolve the National Assembly.

The politicians are already complaining that that they will be reduced to administrative functionaries, who will be used to give merely a democratic veneer to what will remain a military regime.

Damage limitation

The announcement of the constitutional reform package reveals the extent of General Musharraf's fears about the elections.

Former Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto
The army fears Bhutto could regain popular support if she returned to Pakistan

He is worried that once the politicians are allowed to return to general elections they will be able to challenge the legal and moral basis of the military regime in power.

General Musharraf has already tried to limit the potential damage to his regime.

Last April's referendum has helped him claim that, even if he grasped power with the use of military force, he does now have a popular mandate.

But widespread reports of multiple voting and other forms of electoral manipulation have undermined the credibility of the referendum result.

Potential challengers

Now the Pakistani President's biggest worry is that Pakistan's most popular civilian politicians, Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto - both of whom are currently in exile - could participate in the elections.

Observers believe that of the two, Ms Bhutto is most likely to return.

If she did go back, she would almost certainly be arrested on corruption charges.

The army, though, fears that Ms Bhutto could use her prison cell to play the role of a political martyr struggling for democracy.

Such tactics could spark a substantial popular campaign for her release.

The upcoming October elections will mark the beginning of a new phase for General Musharraf's regime.

Once elected, the civilian politicians are likely to challenge him with greater confidence.

The latest constitutional reform package is part of a series of measures designed to ensure that whatever the political parties do, the military remains in charge.

Musharraf's Pakistan

Democracy challenge

Militant threat

Background

TALKING POINT

FROM THE ARCHIVES

BBC WORLD SERVICE
See also:

27 Jun 02 | South Asia
04 May 02 | South Asia
04 May 02 | South Asia
01 May 02 | South Asia
05 Apr 02 | South Asia
05 Apr 02 | South Asia
03 Apr 02 | South Asia
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