Musharraf buying votes and preparing fake ballots: Sharif

AP , KAHUTA, PAKISTAN

Fri, Feb 15, 2008 - Page 5

Former Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif accused President Pervez Musharraf of planning to rig next week's elections, describing it as a move that could trigger uncontrollable unrest and tear Pakistan apart.

The leading opposition politician also said in an interview that US support for Musharraf was deepening anti-US sentiment in Pakistan and that only democratic rule could end rising Islamic militancy.

"We stand for democracy. He stands for dictatorship," Sharif said as he traveled in his armor-plated SUV to a raucous campaign rally attended by about 7,000 supporters in the northern town of Kahuta, a hub of Pakistan's nuclear program. "In order to survive, he has to rig the election. He knows that."

Musharraf maintains that he wants to oversee a transfer to full democracy. His presidency is not being contested when Pakistanis vote next Monday for a new Parliament.

But a convincing opposition win -- as forecast in recent polls -- could leave him vulnerable to impeachment, eight years after he toppled Sharif in a military coup.

Sharif accused the government of buying votes and readying 1.8 million postal ballots to be cast in favor of the Pakistan Muslim League-Q party -- allegations denied by officials -- and warned that if the ruling party won, it would lead to "uncontrollable" unrest.

Sharif compared that prospect to the aftermath of disputed elections in 1970, which culminated in the creation of Bangladesh.

"We lost half of the country because of rigged elections ... If they are rigged again the implications will be grave. We don't want this country to be torn to pieces," he said.

Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League-N and the Pakistan People's Party of assassinated former prime minister Benazir Bhutto have agreed to launch joint street protests if they deem the election to have been rigged. On Tuesday, opposition leaders signaled their intent to form a coalition government if they win a majority.

Also see: Why boycott Pakistan's elections?