Pakistan's parliamentary election brings diverse candidates

Monday, August 26, 2002

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Candidates seeking to run in Pakistan's upcoming parliamentary elections range from pro-Taliban Islamic clerics to liberal intellectuals, party and election officials said Sunday.

Thousands of people have filed papers with Pakistan's Election Commission ahead of Monday's deadline, and more last-minute applications were expected. President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who seized power in a bloodless coup in 1999, has promised to hold legislative elections on Oct. 10 to restore democracy.

An alliance of conservative Islamic parties, which oppose Musharraf's support for the U.S.-led war on terrorism, have fielded candidates across the nation.

"The Oct. 10 elections are jihad for us and we are fielding our candidates for reaching the parliament to ensure supremacy of Islam and restore true Islamic democracy in the country," Ameer ul-Azeem, a spokesman for the six-party alliance Muthida Majlis-e-Amal, said Sunday.

Two anti-U.S. clerics, Qazi Hussain Ahmad and Maulana Fazle ur-Rehman, are running for office and play an important role in the alliance.

Ahmad and Rehman were jailed during the early days of the war in Afghanistan for denouncing Musharraf's decision to turn against the Taliban.

Maulana Azam Tariq, the leader of an outlawed Sunni extremist group, will also contest a seat representing Punjab province even though he remains in jail with dozens of his associates for their involvement in attacks on minority Shi'ite Muslims and Christians.

Liberal intellectuals and pre-coup political leaders have also fielded candidates in most constituencies.

The Pakistan People's Party, considered one of the strongest parties, has nominated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, even though Musharraf has said she will not be allowed to run and will be jailed if she returns to Pakistan because of convictions in absentia related to corruption charges.

Bhutto kicked off her campaign Saturday in London after her lawyers appealed the conviction in a Pakistani court and party officials filed nomination papers on her behalf. She has lived in self-imposed exile in London and the United Arab Emirates since 1999. Government officials said Sunday they plan to seek her extradition to face additional corruption charges.

Sadique al-Farooq, spokesman for former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's party, said no decision had been made on whether to file nomination papers for the exiled Sharif, but that papers would be filed Monday for his brother Shahbaz Sharif and his wife Kulsoom Nawaz.

The Election Commission said it will review the thousands of nomination applications and will announce on Sept. 2 which candidates will appear on the ballot.

The spokesman for the religious parties said there was room for his alliance to make deals with Bhutto's and Sharif's parties to ensure a majority in parliament, even though before the coup the groups were bitterly opposed to each other.

Meanwhile, opposition leaders complained about Musharraf's attempts to build a political alliance loyal to him. After an April referendum, Musharraf has a mandate to serve as president for the next five years.

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