There's little doubt that Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf will win the Apr. 30 referendum he called to ensure his rule for five more years. But just to make sure, Musharraf, who seized power in a bloodless coup in 1999, has been campaigning feverishly around the country.
Musharraf has also outlawed protests against the controversial ballot, which has been criticized by major political parties and national newspapers because the Pakistani constitution technically requires the National Assembly to name the president. Although seven Islamist parties have asked the Supreme Court to declare the referendum unconstitutional, that's seen as a long shot. Meanwhile, all state employees will be required to vote--a bid to boost the turnout.
What do Musharraf, and Pakistan, stand to gain from this exercise? Musharraf wants more time to continue changes accelerated after September 11. Since he began backing the war on terrorism, he has cracked down on religious extremism and boosted the economy. Sanctions have been lifted, aid is flowing, and foreign exchange reserves top $5 billion.
By clamping down on all opposition, though, Musharraf has undercut his own efforts to gain legitimacy. Now, many Pakistanis are writing off October's parliamentary elections as irrelevant, since Musharraf has declared that the National Security Council, which he heads, will be the key decision-making body. He still wins kudos in the U.S. But Musharraf is losing popularity at home.
By Naween A. Mangi in Karachi
Edited by Rose Brady