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Friday, 12 July, 2002, 18:34 GMT 19:34 UK
Musharraf denies power grab
President Musharraf
President Musharraf: "I'm not power hungry"
Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has denied that controversial proposals to change the constitution are aimed at strengthening his grip on power.

In an hour-long address to the nation, General Musharraf said he was trying to give power away rather than amass it.


Am I amassing authority and power, or am I distributing it?

President Musharraf
He said a proposed National Security Council, headed by himself but also including an opposition leader, was necessary to provide checks and balances for a democratic process which had failed in the past.

Opposition parties dismiss his proposals as deeply undemocratic, and want him to make way for a neutral caretaker government which would oversee elections in October.

Farhatullah Babar, a spokesman for Pakistan People's Party leader Benazir Bhutto, said President Musharraf was not taking the political parties seriously.

General Musharraf also defended Pakistan's role in the war on terror, and reiterated his determination to crush Islamic militancy in the country.

He said the agenda of foreign militants on the Afghan border was not in Pakistan's interests, and appealed to Pakistanis to report any person of dubious credentials.

He went on to discuss the country's economy in the light of the budget in June, promising better times ahead for the poor.

Consultation

The controversial reforms, unveiled by the president in June, would give the NSC powers which include sacking the prime minister and cabinet, and dissolving parliament unilaterally.


True democracy never worked in Pakistan - otherwise I would not be sitting here before you

President Musharraf
General Musharraf, who seized power in 1999, insists the changes are needed to ensure stable democracy in Pakistan.

He said the NSC would consist of the president, the prime minister, the leader of the opposition, four chief ministers, three armed forces chiefs and the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff.

"Am I amassing authority and power, or am I distributing it?" he asked in his broadcast.

He said the council would ensure the president could not arbitrarily dismiss the government and that the prime minister could not ask the military to remove the president.

And he promised to respect the views of critics before finalising his plans.

"All amendments are debatable," he said. "Give your views with patience and balance and we will respect your views."

BBC Islamabad correspondent Zaffar Abbas says the real test of the general's credentials will be whether he puts the 23 proposed amendments through parliament or issues them by decree.

Autumn vote

General Musharraf, who won another five years in office in a controversial April referendum, promised to restore civilian rule after taking power.

PML rally
The opposition wants a caretaker government
On Wednesday he set 10 October as the date for a general election, the first national vote since he ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

Pakistan's political parties say they will run in the poll, but fear the changes to the constitution make a free and fair vote unlikely.

The opposition is up in arms at proposals to ban non-graduates from standing in the elections, as well as at a decree barring people who have been prime minister twice before from serving a third term.

This effectively prevents a return to power of former prime ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif.

Correspondents say most Pakistani political parties stand to lose as large numbers of established politicians become ineligible to run.

Pakistan has been under military rule for half of its 54-year history.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
President Musharraf
"The Supreme Court gave us permission to carry out constitutional amendments"
Zaffar Ali Shah, Pakistan Muslim League
"Musharraff has no respect for the constitution"
Pakistan Law Minister Dr Khalid Rajha
"No government can control a future parliament"
Musharraf's Pakistan

Democracy challenge

Militant threat

Background

TALKING POINT

FROM THE ARCHIVES

BBC WORLD SERVICE
See also:

12 Jul 02 | South Asia
12 Jul 02 | South Asia
07 Jul 02 | South Asia
27 Jun 02 | South Asia
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