PPP members to expected to resign from parliament

AGENCIES , LONDON

Thu, Oct 04, 2007 - Page 5

Former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto said yesterday that she expected her party's members of parliament would resign ahead of Saturday's presidential elections.

"Most probably," she said when asked if that would be the decision. "I think that the resignation of the Pakistan People's Party [PPP] MPs [members of parliament] will be a severe blow to the legitimacy of the presidential elections," she told reporters in London.

Bhutto had earlier told reporters in London that talks on a power sharing deal with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf are "totally stalled," and warned of trouble on the streets.

She also said that, with or without a deal, she plans to return to Pakistan on Oct. 18 to "lead the movement for democracy."

But Musharraf refuses to take "tangible steps" toward restoring democracy and defuse a worsening political crisis, she said.

"General Musharraf's political party has undermined the understanding that was being reached, that was very near at the end of last month. But since then it's been totally stalled," she said.

For example, Musharraf refuses to quit the army to continue serving as president, establish a balance of power between the president and prime minister, and implement election reform, she said.

Bhutto also dismissed a reported amnesty offer as "disinformation" aimed at distracting attention away from the real issues of organizing fair elections.

Finally, Musharraf rejects a full immunity bill for MPs and wants to maintain a ban on prime ministers serving more than two terms, said Bhutto, who has served twice as head of government from 1988 to 1990 and again from 1993 to 1996.

"We've done our best to negotiate a peaceful transition toward democracy, and while many promises have been made, the goal posts keep being moved ahead," she said.

She then entered talks with executives of the PPP to consider following other opposition parties in withdrawing from parliament and leaving Pakistan in a dangerous void.

"I'm afraid we're heading for a situation which could lead to street agitation. I don't want it but unless the regime comes up with a political solution I'm afraid that's where we're heading," she said.

She warned not only of mainstream political instability but of growing Islamist extremism in Pakistan.

"Our people yearn for stability and security," she said. "We believe Pakistan's stability lies in a democratic order."

Despite the deadlock, Bhutto vowed to arrive back home on Oct.18 as planned: "I feel it's very important for me to be back in Pakistan to lead the movement for democracy."

She dismissed suggestions that she might be expelled like Nawaz Sharif, whom Musharraf ousted as prime minister in 1999.

Sharif, following his return from exile in London, was deported to Saudi Arabia.

If a power-sharing deal could be struck, it would allow Musharraf to remain as president while ushering in civilian rule. He has promised to quit as head of the military if, as expected, he wins Saturday's vote.

In Islamabad, the Supreme Court is hearing last-minute challenges filed by Musharraf's rivals, who argue that he is not eligible to stand.