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Tuesday, 20 August, 2002, 16:28 GMT 17:28 UK
Parties cleared for Pakistan poll
Jamaati members rally
The government has yet to lift a ban on political rallies
Pakistan's election commission has given the go-ahead to 38 parties to contest national and provincial elections in October.

All the parties have been allocated an electoral symbol - vital to help illiterate Pakistanis identify who to vote for.

A number of parties were refused separate symbols on the grounds that they were part of existing political alliances, or had not satisfied strict new electoral requirements.

Sharif supporters
The big guns will be absent from the hustings
The 10 October vote is the first national poll since President Pervez Musharraf came to power in a bloodless military coup three years ago.

He extended his rule by another three years in a controversial referendum in April.

Since then he has announced a raft of constitutional changes, which, his opponents say, are undemocratic.

They include measures barring Pakistan's two best-known politicians, Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, from running in October or returning for a third term as prime minister.

Stay-aways

The parties of the two exiled leaders have traditionally dominated Pakistani politics.

Both face arrest on corruption charges if they go home to Pakistan.

President Pervez Musharraf
Ms Bhutto would go straight to jail, General Musharraf made clear on Monday.

Mr Sharif, for his part, has "reluctantly" decided against any return on security grounds, a spokesman said on Tuesday.

The former PMs appear, however, to have found ways round the new laws.

Ms Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party (PPP) set up a new wing, the PPP-P.

And the Pakistan Muslim League elected Mr Sharif's brother, Shahbaz, as its leader - although General Musharraf says he will not be allowed to return either because he promised to stay abroad.

Range of symbols

Many observers thought the two parties were bound to lose their traditional symbols, but the PPP-P retains its arrow motif, and the PML its tiger.


No one is ready to believe that elections will be free and fair

Imran Khan
Having a recogisable logo in a country where 70% of voters cannot read is imperative, observers say.

Party symbols announced by the Election Commission range from a tree to a bus, to a stag to a table lamp.

Cricket legend Imran Khan's Movement for Justice not surprisingly chose a cricket bat, while a grouping of Islamic parties plumped for a book representing the Holy Koran.

An alliance of parties supporting the president, meanwhile, will fight under the symbol of a tractor.

Rally ban

Unless the elections are rigged, observers expect no serious challenge to the big two, both of whom say they will defer in seats where the other is stronger.

With under two months to go, Mr Khan says he is having difficulty finding candidates.

"No one is ready to believe that elections will be free and fair," he told a news conference on Monday.

The fact that all candidates must now have university degrees will also not have helped his cause.

Correspondents say there is little sign of public excitement over the vote - possibly because the military government has yet to lift a ban on political gatherings.

Musharraf's Pakistan

Democracy challenge

Militant threat

Background

TALKING POINT

FROM THE ARCHIVES

BBC WORLD SERVICE
See also:

16 Aug 02 | South Asia
05 Aug 02 | South Asia
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03 Aug 02 | South Asia
24 Jul 02 | South Asia
08 Aug 02 | South Asia
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