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Saturday, 4 May, 2002, 14:18 GMT 15:18 UK
Musharraf 'tarred with his own brush'
President General Pervez Musharraf (centre) salutes in response to voters slogans at a polling station
Musharraf said the people's response to the vote was genuine
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By Marcus George
BBC News Online's correspondent in Islamabad

Imagine if the bus you are travelling on is stopped five times by police in the course of two hours and, by brute force, you are coerced into a polling station to vote for a military-clad figure who is going to win anyway.

We saw multiple voting and heard reports of this by presiding officers

Human Rights Commission for Pakistan
Such are the reports surrounding the controversial referendum on giving General Pervez Musharraf a five-year tenure as president of Pakistan which human rights groups are describing as "farcical".

Hundreds of polling stations were monitored around the country last Tuesday by volunteers for the Human Rights Commission for Pakistan which released a statement attacking the procedure before the results had come in.

Evidence gathered by the commission, including video footage of women voting more than once, is to be published in a report this week.

We want real democracy. I'm here to take care of economical revival and governance

Pervez Musharraf
"We saw multiple voting and heard reports of this by presiding officers," said vice-chairperson of the commission for the Punjab, Professor Salima Hashmi.

"I was told by some officers that they were helpless in stopping these counts of multiple voting."

It is also alleged that indelible ink was substituted with a wash-off substance, making prevention of vote rigging even more difficult to prevent.

'Real democracy'

Such has been the contentious nature of politics in Pakistan this week which has seen General Pervez Musharraf consolidate his power, but at a price.

Polling station officials count votes
Human rights groups said the vote was "farcical"

The quiet-spoken military leader came to power in a blood-less coup in October 1999.

Despite wide criticism from the EU and the US, public support bloomed in Pakistan for his campaign against corrupt politicians and Islamic militants.

In his first meeting with the press after the referendum, General Musharraf was back in uniform and brassier than ever.

The general defended the people's response to the referendum as genuine and emphasised his personal role in helping democracy "take root" in Pakistan after decades of misrule.

Outspoken in his political mission, the military leader justified the entire procedure.

"We want real democracy. I'm here to take care of economical revival and governance. Unless we cap this with a political restructuring, it won't work."

Political 'overkill'

Despite all the signs, President Musharraf categorically denied he was evolving into the kind of politician he is so contemptuous of.

A man enjoys his dinner in a restaurant as President Musharraf addresses the nation on television
There is widespread public indifference in Pakistani politics

After the general election in October he would concern himself with "playing tennis and golf" and leave the job of running Pakistan to the prime minister.

But amongst widespread public indifference and despondence in Pakistani politics, the public feels it has taken another battering at the hands of those manipulating the playing field.

"Life will become more difficult for Musharraf now," a former government official told me.

"He has fallen into the same trap that countless other administrations have stumbled on."

He was, of course, indicating the fact that the alleged manipulation, which resulted in the biggest electoral turnout in the Pakistani history, was massively miscalculated.

"It was overkill. The figure is bigger than all the other elections put together," he added with a grimace.

'Costly cabaret'

With a continuing drought of credible politicians, Pakistan had resigned itself to another five years of rule for General Musharraf.

Musharraf's supporters celebrate his victory
Musharraf's drive to bring law and order found many supporters

But an argument of principle is now growing. How could the general allow the alleged manipulation to go ahead?

In the absence of any tangible opposition, onlookers feel Musharraf could have kept his uniform on and forgone his "democratic" entrance.

But the impending reestablishment of a parliament in Pakistan, which will follow the October election, has been widely seen as the motivating force behind the costly cabaret.

The biggest player has now manoeuvred himself onto the pitch for the elections and the coming months will set the scene for a party political make-over.

But in entering the political game, President Musharraf has been tarred with his own brush. And the paint-job is hardly dry.

See also:

04 May 02 | South Asia
Musharraf dismisses rigging charge
03 May 02 | Media reports
Musharraf thanks 'silent majority'
02 May 02 | South Asia
Pakistan's referendum views
02 May 02 | South Asia
US cool on Musharraf vote
02 May 02 | Country profiles
Country profile: Pakistan
01 May 02 | South Asia
Musharraf wins huge backing
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