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Monday, 29 April, 2002, 22:33 GMT 23:33 UK
Pakistan's ignored voters
Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf addresses the nation before the referendum
Musharraf has appealed to the nation for support
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By Susannah Price
BBC correspondent in Karachi

Orangi town is a massive slum - more than a million people live here in makeshift city which has basically risen out of the desert.

Successive governments have ignored this sprawling mass, failing to provide most basic facilities, and the dust and heat here are overwhelming.

Since General Musharraf came to power we have seen some peace and stability and that has brought a little happiness to our lives

Najmuddin dropped out of school to help his brothers in their tiny family business. They glue together cheap wallets in a backroom of their home for just a few rupees a day.

Najmuddin can not see any escape from a bleak future here in the slums.

He says that earlier he thought an education would lead to a job, but some of those in his class became drug addicts, others turned to crime.

Law and order

Most people in Orangi have given up on General Musharraf providing anything in the way of sanitation, water or power.

Supporters of opposition political parties and Islamic groups participate in an anti-Musharraf rally in Lahore
The opposition has called for a boycott of the referendum

But Najumiddin's family have seen one improvement in the past two-and-a-half years.

There used to be daily reports of violent crimes throughout this area - and few people dared to venture out late at night.

However, President Musharraf's emphasis on law and order seems to have produced results.

Najmuddin's father Shamsuddin says Orangi now feels safer.

"Before Musharraf came to power, it was very bad. But since General Musharraf came to power we have seen some peace and stability and that has brought a little happiness to our lives.

"So I've decided to support him in the referendum in the hope that our lives will improve further in the next few years."


Another of President Musharraf's promises was to clamp down on Islamic extremists and reform the religious schools or madrasas where many are educated.

Musharraf has pledged to rid Pakistan of extremism

He has outlawed two groups accused of involvement in sectarian violence and detained some members. However, it has not stopped the sectarian killings.

Marianna Barber of The News says this policy, if successful, is a definite vote winner.

"It is popular because it's one of the major reasons why law and order has broken down in Pakistan for past 15 years and getting worse - sectarian violence, terror.

"So, his policy to go against extremism has been welcomed because it means that sectarian violence will take a back seat to some extent."

Business 'picking up'

Many of the residents of Orangi have found work in the industrial area a short drive away in what is the biggest industrial estate in Pakistan.

Election staff pick ballot boxes to carry them to polling stations
Some observers say the referendum will be rigged

Over the years foreign and local investment stagnated - but many factories say they have found business is now picking up.

"I feel that people are very positive, their sentiments are bullish because they see some stability in economic policies in past three years," Ameen Bandudkha, chief executive of a denim factory, says.

"At top level corruption has been eliminated - well of course not at lower levels, but we see that coming as well."

'Expect nothing'

However, there are doubts about the referendum even among the business community's members.

The opposition say it is unconstitutional and have called for a boycott.

They also say they were only allowed one rally while President Musharraf held several - and that government workers were instructed to attend.

Many believe the president should be chosen, as usually happens after October's election, by the assemblies and the senate.

According to Najam Sethi, editor of the weekly newspaper the Friday Times, the government has stacked the odds in its favour by the conduct of the referendum.

"The turnout is rigged already by the fact that you don't have an ID card. There are polling booths next to you - workers will be told to vote by their employers."

As the temperature mounts in Orangi, an ice-cream seller tries to tempt those with a few rupees to spare. But there are no takers.

The people in the slums have probably seen the least benefit from General Musharraf's term in office - but they have learnt to expect nothing.

And while the liberal middle classes discuss the legality of the referendum and the future of democracy - those in Orangi are simply struggling to make ends meet.

See also:

29 Apr 02 | South Asia
Musharraf puts faith in voters
29 Apr 02 | South Asia
Pakistan prepares to vote
28 Apr 02 | South Asia
Musharraf 'ready' for another term
22 Apr 02 | South Asia
Court examines Musharraf poll
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
29 Apr 02 | South Asia
Q&A: Pakistan referendum
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