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Wednesday, 9 October, 2002, 18:50 GMT 19:50 UK
Pakistani president's corruption warning
Pakistanis watch President's Musharraf nationwide address
Musharraf called on Pakistanis to "vote diligently"
Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has confirmed his commitment to transfer full executive powers to the new prime minister following Thursday's general election.

We are at the crossroads of history and about to start a new democratic era

President Musharraf
But, in a nationwide broadcast, he said he would also be uncompromising in ensuring that Pakistanis were not subjected to corrupt government once again.

General Musharraf promised the elections - the first since a military coup in 1999 - would be free, fair and transparent and marked the start of a new democratic era.

However, critics have condemned the polls, claiming General Musharraf has used constitutional changes and tough electoral restrictions to ensure military rule continues.

'No compromise'

A tight race is predicted between the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) of exiled former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto - who was banned from standing as a candidate - and a new pro-government party.

The 72 million eligible voters will choose from 7,054 candidates in electing a national assembly and four provincial assemblies.

President Musharraf
The president promised free and fair elections

The bodies were suspended and later disbanded by General Musharraf after he seized power.

The general has declared himself president until 2007 so is not contesting the elections.

While promising to transfer executive powers to the prime minister after the elections, General Musharraf said there was one power he would "always keep".

"There will be no compromise on it. And that is the solidarity and survival of Pakistan and running of government free from corruption and dishonesty. This shall be my demand for the future government," he said

Close contest

In addition to Mrs Bhutto's exclusion, her fellow ex-premier in exile, Nawaz Sharif, is barred from returning to Pakistan until 2010.

Street banners in Karachi
Turnout has fallen over the past four elections

General Musharraf defended his decision to exclude them, referring to the "sham democracy" of recent years which had "taken the nation to ruin".

Scores of other candidates have been disqualified, and critics say the result will be a continuance of the military rule that has governed Pakistan for 27 of its 55 years as a nation.

"If you want to bring new faces, you can do it by the power of your vote," the general said, urging people to "vote diligently".

At least three public opinion polls show the PPP and the pro-Musharraf Pakistan Muslim League - Quaid-e-Azam (PML-Q) neck-and-neck.

The expected hung parliament would spark a frantic bout of horse-trading and coalition-building.

Heavy security

Voter turnout will be crucial - numbers have declined in the past four elections, with only 35.9% voting in 1997.

The PML-Q is a breakaway from Mr Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), with which the PPP has suggested it might form a post-poll alliance.

One event on Wednesday showed how tough the alliance-building would be.

A rebel PPP candidate shot himself in the hand in front of journalists in Peshawar in protest at his party's decision to ally with another party.

Almost 250,000 police and paramilitary troops are being deployed to guard the more than 60,000 polling stations.

Susannah Price reports from Islamabad
"Its been a month of campaigning and controversy"
Aitzaz Ahsan, Pakistan People's Party
"We do not want to abdicate from any forum that may be available post-election"
Former President Farooq Leghari, Millat Party
"In the future there has to be harmony between the military and civilian politicians"
See also:

09 Oct 02 | South Asia
09 Oct 02 | South Asia
08 Oct 02 | South Asia
08 Oct 02 | South Asia
08 Oct 02 | South Asia
01 Oct 02 | South Asia
09 Oct 02 | Country profiles
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