The Pakistani opposition parties neared an agreement yesterday on joint demands of President Pervez Musharraf in return for calling off any boycott that could spoil the legitimacy of parliamentary elections next month, an official said.
The meeting between representatives of former prime ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif and other smaller parties are crucial to an opposition push to challenge to Musharraf's political dominance of Pakistan.
Party leaders have threatened to boycott the vote unless their demands are met. An electoral boycott would undercut the efforts of Musharraf -- a key US ally in the war on terror -- to ease Pakistan back toward democracy after eight years of military rule.
Ahsan Iqbal, spokesman for Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League-N, said the opposition charter of demands would "hopefully be finalized today or latest by tomorrow."
The parties are demanding the end of emergency rule and the release of former Supreme Court judges who were sacked amid indications that they were preparing to invalidate Musharraf's election in October to a new presidential term by the outgoing parliament.
Sharif and Bhutto are longstanding political foes, but the two have been drawn together since returning from exile by the common goal of confronting Musharraf. Their move to formulate a joint set of conditions raises the stakes for government, which they accuse of planning to conduct a sham election.
Election officials have already rejected the candidacy of Nawaz Sharif and his politician brother Shahbaz on grounds of alleged involvement in criminal acts during the 1990s.
Iqbal said the issues under consideration included the restoration of an independent judiciary and the constitution, creation of a neutral caretaker government and an independent election commission.
The two sides are also considering what deadline should be given to the government to accept the demands.
"There was unanimity of views ... that the present system and actions of Musharraf's regime are taking Pakistan toward fraudulent elections," Iqbal said of the first round of talks held on Tuesday.
"The present situation demands that all democratic forces work in unity and collectively to save the country from a major catastrophe which will result after rigged elections," he said.
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