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Thursday, 2 May, 2002, 15:11 GMT 16:11 UK
Q&A: Pakistan referendum

Voters in Pakistan have backed General Musharraf in a referendum on whether they support a five-year extension to his rule. But it was overshadowed by allegations of poll abuse and opposition charges that the turnout was very low.

BBC News Online looks at why such a referendum was called at this time.

What did the referendum ask?

The referendum question was: "For the survival of the local government system, establishment of democracy, continuity of reforms, end to sectarianism and extremism, and to fulfil the vision of Quaid-e-Azam [Great leader - ie Pakistan's late founder, Mohammed Ali Jinnah], would you like to elect President General Pervez Musharraf as president of Pakistan for five years?"

Why was there a referendum?

President Musharraf wants to establish his legitimacy.

Referendum rules
78 million eligible voters
87,000 polling stations, including booths at prisons, hospitals and petrol stations for the first time
Voter registration list scrapped to make whole country a single constituency
Rules relaxed so people could vote without their national identity card if they had other proof of who they are
People had their fingers marked to prevent multiple voting

He took power in a 1999 coup that ousted then-prime minister Nawaz Sharif, but promised to be only a caretaker leader until democracy could be restored.

The referendum allows him to be seen to be abiding by democratic ideals.

Politicians in Pakistan believe the army is denying them power and say the referendum is unconstitutional.

Under the constitution, the president should be chosen not on a direct vote of the people, but by the elected members of the National Assembly and the Senate.

Many had hoped that National Assembly elections due in October could be followed by the picking of a new president.

Why does General Musharraf want to stay in power?

Mr Musharraf wants to stay as president to help to continue with the economic recovery, ensure social stability and eventually to enable the return of "true democracy".

In January, he delivered a speech advocating reform and calling for Pakistan to return to the values upon which it was founded.

He says he needs to stay in power to counter unnamed "destabilising influences".

Though Mr Musharraf often wears civilian clothes instead of his general's uniform, he is seen as a key link to the armed forces.

Mr Musharraf's supporters argue that Pakistan is not suited to a Western-style civilian democracy and that the army has to have a central role in order for peace and stability to be continued.

Keeping Mr Musharraf in power would maintain the army's profile and power.

What was the result?

The government says that with most of the votes counted, around 98% back General Musharraf continuing in office. It also says that the turnout was around 70%.

But this is hotly disputed by the opposition, which called for a boycott of the vote. It says little more than 5% of the electorate bothered to vote, illustrating that President Musharraf does not have popular support.

Pakistan's Human Rights Commission says there were flagrant abuses with instances of multiple voting and pressure on state employees to vote.

What does General Musharraf do now?

General Musharraf will point to the result as a popular endorsement of his rule, and will also hope that it bolsters him in the eyes of the rest of the world.

He has largely escaped the diplomatic isolation and foreign condemnation that might have been expected to follow his armed, if bloodless, coup.

A poster showing Pervez Musharraf on a white charger
Pakistanis are being exhorted to vote by the government
The previous Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, was being seen as increasingly corrupt.

And although there were some who denounced him as a "tinpot dictator", General Musharraf's stock overseas has soared since the 11 September attacks on America.

He became a useful ally of the US as it waged war in Pakistan's neighbour Afghanistan.

However, he has had only mixed success in cracking down on militant Islamic groups blamed for continued sectarian violence and instability in parts of the country.

And the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, Don McKinnon, has warned that the referendum should not be used to entrench any undemocratic form of government in Pakistan.

President Musharraf is obliged by Pakistan's Supreme Court to hold parliamentary elections by this October, which he says he will abide by.

But it is not at all clear how much power elected politicians would have vis--vis the president himself because the country's constitution has been in abeyance following the coup in 1999.

If you have any questions about the referendum in Pakistan send them to us, using the form at the bottom of the page, and we'll get the answers.

Your questions so far:

  • Who was eligible to vote?
  • How many people actually voted?
  • Was there multiple voting?
  • Where are Pakistan's ex-leaders?
  • Could the assembly be dissolved?

    Your questions were answered by BBC News Online's South Asia correspondents, in conjunction with the Urdu section of the BBC World Service.

    Who was eligible to vote?

    How many people were eligible to vote?
    Hammad Khaliq, Karachi, Pakistan

    Some opposition groups were quoted as saying participation in the referendum was as low as 5% of the total number of Pakistanis eligible to vote. However, there have been no specific figures or percentages issued by an 'independent' group since the polls closed.

    Return to the index of questions

    How many people actually voted?

    Is there any independent (non government, non opposition) estimate of the percentage of voters who voted in the referendum?
    Farzana McRae, Washington, USA

    The Information Department in Islamabad reported that the total number of voters was 61.90 million.

    However, after the voting, Pakistan's National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) announced there were around 75 million voters in the country, and another 3.2 million abroad.

    This adds up to around 78.2 million voters all told.

    Return to the index of questions

    Was there multiple voting?

    I voted in the referendum held by President Musharraf. What I want to know is how the government was able to prevent multiple voting by marking people's fingers with simple fountain pen ink? Surely, it can easily be removed by washing with water only?
    Babar K Taimoor, Lahore, Pakistan

    Our information is that the Election Commission of Pakistan said its staff would be using indelible ink to mark the fingers of voters when they cast their vote.

    However, a number of eye-witnesses and voters have reported to the BBC Urdu Service that they saw some voters vote more than once.

    The head of Pakistan's Election Commission has, however, described reports of irregularities as "unproven allegations".

    Return to the index of questions

    Where are Pakistan's ex-leaders?

    Will the two former prime-ministers be allowed to contest and enter Pakistan during the parliamentary elections in October?
    Dr Rajnikant M Patel, Orchard Park, USA.

    Ex-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was sent to Saudi Arabia on the basis of an agreement between the Pakistani and Saudi governments. That agreement, as far as we can tell, does not allow Mr Sharif's participation in active politics.

    As for Ms Benazir Bhutto, there are cases outstanding against her in Pakistani courts. This means she would probably be arrested as soon as she set foot in Pakistan.

    This is why it would perhaps be unlikely for the two former prime ministers to return home anytime soon, far less contest elections.

    Return to the index of questions

    Could the assembly be dissolved?

    Will Mr Musharraf have power to dissolve the assembly?
    Owais Ahmed, Houston, USA

    Pakistan's constitution has been in suspension since General Musharraf's take-over.

    Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had earlier amended the constitution and revoked presidential authority to dissolve the parliament.

    But the current president has reserved the right to further amend the constitution when it is revived, presumably when the new parliament begins functioning after elections in October.

    It is not clear exactly what changes to the distribution of national authority General Musharraf will carry out, but as legislative elections approach, his plans may become more widely known.

    Return to the index of questions

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    Disclaimer: The BBC will use as many of your questions as possible but we cannot guarantee that all e-mails will be published. The BBC reserves the right to edit comments that are published.
  • See also:

    29 Apr 02 | South Asia
    Pakistan prepares to vote
    28 Apr 02 | South Asia
    Musharraf 'ready' for another term
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