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Musharraf Takes Power, Constitutional Amendments and Elections

low voter turnout, Pakistan Muslim League, parliamentary elections, Musharraf, Bhutto

Musharraf pledged to hold provincial and parliamentary elections in October 2002. In a bid to secure his position as president, a title he had adopted in 2001, Musharraf called a referendum in April 2002 on extending his presidency for five years. The referendum returned a majority of votes in favor of the proposal, although low voter turnout, loose voting rules, and the absence of poll monitors tainted the results. In addition, political parties denounced the referendum because under the constitution, the president is to be selected by members of the national and provincial legislatures.

In August Musharraf decreed 29 amendments to Pakistan’s constitution, granting himself sweeping new powers. The amendments allow him to dissolve the parliament, force the resignation of the prime minister, appoint military chiefs and Supreme Court justices, and chair a new National Security Council. The council is to include top military leaders and provide oversight of elected representatives, thereby giving the armed forces a formal role in governing the country. Prior to the October elections, Musharraf banned former prime ministers Sharif and Bhutto, who both live in exile, from running as candidates in the election. Musharraf also imposed new requirements for candidates, allowing only individuals with college degrees and no outstanding loans to participate.

In the October elections, no single party or coalition of parties won a majority of seats in the National Assembly (lower house). The Pakistan Muslim League (Quaid-e-Azam), a new PML faction formed prior to the elections as a pro-Musharraf party, won the largest number of seats. However, pro-democracy opposition parties and hardline Islamic parties also made a strong showing in the election. The second largest number of seats went to Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), which led the 15-party Alliance for the Restoration of Democracy. An alliance of six Islamic parties, the Muthida Majlis-e-Amal (United Council of Action), finished in third place, winning the largest number of seats of any religious grouping in Pakistan’s history. The Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), Sharif’s PML faction, finished in a distant fourth place.

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