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Musharraf sets election date

Musharraf has barred his predcessors from standing against him
Musharraf has barred his predcessors from standing against him  

Staff and wires

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf is expected to unveil a new package of changes to the constitution that could enrage his critics.

Following a cabinet meeting Wednesday, he issued a presidential order setting October 10 as the date for parliamentary elections.

General Musharraf has already faced a storm of protests over constitutional amendments announced in June that gave him sweeping powers to dictate the country's affairs.

A government statement says he will announce a new package of constitutional changes when he addresses the nation on Friday.

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State-run Pakistan Television interrupted its regular programming on Wednesday to announce the election date for the lower house of Parliament, or National Assembly, as well as for the four provincial legislatures.

Musharraf came to power in a bloodless military coup in October 1999, taking the role of 'Chief Executive' of Pakistan. He was given three years by the Supreme Court to curb corruption, introduce reforms and return the country to democracy.

On June 20, 2001, he appointed himself the nation's president while continuing to hold the office of Chief of Army Staff and Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee.

The court deadline would have ended his rule in October 2002, but Musharraf claimed his task was not yet finished.

In April 2002 he held a controversial nationwide referendum to remain as leader for another five years and received an overwhelming majority of votes.

His support for the United States' war against terrorism has gained him praise in the West, but resulted in criticism from within his nation.

In July 2002 a plot to assassinate Musharraf prior to the April referendum was uncovered. (Full story)

Predecessors barred

Since his takeover, Musharraf has made it clear that neither Sharif nor Benazir Bhutto, also a twice-elected prime minister, would be allowed to contest elections. Bhutto has been convicted in absentia of corruption, most recently this week, and faces a total of eight years in jail. (Full story)

She is living in self-imposed exile in the United Arab Emirates, although her party workers say she may return to her homeland. The authorities say she will be arrested.

Musharraf's constitutional reforms will limit prime ministers and provincial chief ministers to two terms each, disqualifying both Bhutto and Sharif as well as most of the previous provincial premiers.

Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League has said it will contest the elections.

"We will definitely contest elections, but with reservations," The Associated Press reports Mushahed Ullah Khan, a spokesman for the Pakistan Muslim League, as saying.

Musharraf's constitutional changes also seek to institutionalize the role of the armed forces with the creation of a National Security Council, which would include the chiefs of the army, air force and navy.

Musharraf also plans to restore the power of the president to dismiss elected Parliaments, a power that Sharif withdrew.




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