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Pakistan Will Hold Local Elections

South Asia: As Clinton's visit nears, the military regime offers a small step toward democracy. National voting is promised, but no date is given.

March 24, 2000|From Times Wire Services

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Two days before President Clinton's planned visit to Pakistan, the military regime on Thursday offered the first small step toward democracy with the announcement of local elections.

The announcement by Gen. Pervez Musharraf--who ousted the elected government in a coup last year--coincided with Pakistan's national day, which marks the 60th anniversary of a resolution that eventually led to its creation in 1947.

Pakistan celebrated with a military parade that highlighted its being the first Muslim nuclear power, displaying military hardware including missiles capable of carrying a nuclear warhead.

Musharraf set no timetable for a full return to civilian rule. He previously rebuffed international pressure for elections, arguing that he needed time to fight corruption and cronyism.

But on Thursday, Musharraf promised that the local voting would pave the way for national elections at an unspecified date.

"Democracy starts here at the district and local governments," the general told a news conference in the capital, Islamabad. "From here we will move up step by step to provincial and federal [elections] in due course."

His plan for staggered local elections between December of this year and July 2001 includes giving a greater voice to village-level councils and allocating seats for women, minorities and "workers and peasants."

In what he called his plan for "a devolution of power and establishing the foundation of democracy," Musharraf said elections for the lowest tier of union councils would be held in two phases from December to May, and for the highest tier of district councils in July.

A middle tier of subdistrict councils would be elected by the directly elected members of union councils.

Musharraf said the new structure would provide an "unprecedented transfer of power from the elite to the vast majority."

The system will have four guiding principles--people to be masters of their own destinies, government officers to be subordinate to elected representatives, speedy justice for the common people and fiscal autonomy for local districts.

He said the minimum age to vote would be reduced to 18 from 21.

Musharraf took power in a bloodless coup in October, accusing deposed Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of corruption and power mongering.

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