ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, (AP) -Pakistan’s ruling party has enough votes to re-elect President Gen. Pervez Musharraf to a new five-year term, and the vote will likely take place in the first week of October, top party officials said Saturday.
An announcement on the date from the Election Commission is imminent, the officials said a day after opposition leader Benazir Bhutto’s party announced she would return to Pakistan on Oct. 18 after an eight-year exile to campaign in parliamentary elections.
Two officials from the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Q party, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said the presidential vote would take place in the first week of October. The president, whose term expires Nov. 15, is chosen by an electoral college of all national and provincial lawmakers.
“We have enough votes to easily elect President Musharraf for another term,” said Azeem Chaudhry, a senior official in the leader’s party.
Chaudhry said that during negotiations on power sharing with Musharraf, Bhutto had demanded too much from the government in return for backing the military leader. Her demands included that the constitution be amended so she could become prime minister for a third term if her party wins parliamentary elections — due by January 2008.
“If we do it, it will send a signal that Benazir Bhutto is the future prime minister, and in this situation who will vote for us?” Chaudhry said.
Musharraf seized power in a 1999 coup, overthrowing the government of then-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. But the U.S.-allied military leader has seen his popularity slide this year after he tried to remove the Supreme Court’s popular chief judge and Islamic militants stepped up attacks in the nation.
On Friday, Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party announced the two-time former prime minister, who left the country in 1999 amid corruption allegations, will return home in October to campaign in the parliamentary elections, regardless of the outcome of her talks with Musharraf.
“This will strengthen our efforts for democracy,” Bhutto, who lives in exile in Dubai and London, told Pakistan’s Geo television. “Democracy should be restored completely and the army removed from the scene.”
Both Bhutto and Musharraf are urging moderates to work together to defeat Taliban and al-Qaida extremists based along the frontier with Afghanistan. But they have failed to produce an accord amid signs Musharraf is reluctant to give up his sweeping powers.
The ruling coalition says it has enough support to get the simple majority needed to re-elect Musharraf, who also holds the post of army chief. Yet the support of Bhutto’s party would help achieve the two-thirds majority needed for constitutional amendments that could head off of legal challenges to his re-election bid.
One ruling party official, seeking anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject, told The Associated Press that the Bhutto-Musharraf talks had divided ruling party members amid concerns that their electoral chances could suffer if Musharraf makes too many concessions to Bhutto.
Despite the uncertainty over the talks, the government says that on her return, Bhutto will not suffer the fate of political rival Sharif, who was swiftly expelled when he came back from exile Monday. But officials said she would have to face pending corruption charges.
Bhutto, now 56, was only 35 when she became prime minister in 1988, the first female leader of a modern Muslim nation. She was elected to a second term in 1993.
Analysts say even if Bhutto gains enough seats to form the government, she will be a weaker prime minister because the president enjoys more power. Bhutto’s demands included clipping the wings of the president by reducing his power to dismiss the parliament, Chaudhry said.