The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Pak to hold polls in January

Islamabad, Oct. 10 (AP): Pakistan will hold parliamentary elections in early January, Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz said today.

He said a caretaker government would be set up to organise the polls “in the beginning of January”. The Pakistan Premier did not give a specific date. “The elections would be held in a free and fair manner, and international observers would also be invited” to monitor them, Aziz told reporters.

However, President Pervez Musharraf, who has been in talks with former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto over a power-sharing deal, today advised the former Premier to delay her return to Pakistan. Bhutto was supposed to return to the country on October 18.

The election announcement comes after Musharraf, who has dominated Pakistani politics since seizing power in a 1999 coup, scored an overwhelming victory in a weekend presidential election.

The supreme court has ruled that the results can only become official when it has ruled on complaints that Musharraf was not eligible to run.

However, few analysts expect the judges to disqualify Musharraf, who has said he will give up his powerful position as head of the army only after securing a new five-year term. Maneouvering for the parliamentary vote is already in full swing.

Both Musharraf and Benazir are pro-American and have called for moderate forces to join hands to reverse a resurgence of Taliban and al Qaida militants along the Afghan border. However, Musharraf faces resistance from within the conservative ruling Pakistan Muslim League (Quaid-e-Azam) party, whose leaders could be sidelined by a Bhutto comeback.

Opposition parties largely boycotted Saturday’s presidential vote among federal and provincial lawmakers in order to undermine the legitimacy of Musharraf’s re-election.

The supreme court is considering petitions arguing that Musharraf should have been disqualified under a constitutional bar on public servants running for elected office.

In another twist which could benefit Musharraf, the government of Pakistan's North West Frontier Province was dissolved today.

A coalition of religious parties which controls the provincial government had initiated the dissolution to undermine Musharraf’s re-election. But manoeuvering among its components held up the move, exposing rifts between the two main Islamist groups and fanning speculation that one of them will join a pro-Musharraf government.

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