YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

The World

Musharraf Opens His Campaign

April 10, 2002|From Times Wire Services

LAHORE, Pakistan — President Pervez Musharraf launched a campaign to extend his rule Tuesday, proclaiming at an elaborately staged rally that his military government had saved Pakistan from being branded a terrorist state.

Tens of thousands of people were bused into the park where Pakistan's independence movement began in 1940 to hear Musharraf's campaign speech--the first of the general's political career.

Musharraf, who took power in a bloodless 1999 coup, has called an April 30 referendum to extend his rule by five years and to expand the powers of the president and of the military ahead of parliamentary elections in the fall that will restore civilian rule.

"The future of democracy in Pakistan is in your hands," Musharraf told the crowd at Minar-e-Pakistan park. "On the day of the referendum, you people have to decide: Do you want to return Pakistan to the people who looted our country? Do you want to end my reforms?"

"No," the crowd responded, with little enthusiasm.

The constitution calls for the president to be elected by parliament, which will be chosen in October. Musharraf, who dissolved parliament when he took power, said the referendum was constitutional--and called anyone who says otherwise a hypocrite.

His speech reflected his lack of campaign experience. Wearing a camouflage uniform, Musharraf ran through his accomplishments as president but never energized the crowd.

Musharraf repeated his key argument that he needed to stay in power to ensure that his economic, political and social reforms were not reversed by corrupt politicians.

He lashed out at Pakistan's last two prime ministers, saying they looted the country and now live in opulence abroad.

Those two former leaders--Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif--are in exile but still head Pakistan's two largest political parties. Both parties are boycotting what they call an unconstitutional and fraudulent referendum.

Los Angeles Times Articles