Pakistan elections set for January

Pakistan will hold parliamentary elections early in the new year the prime minister said today.

Pakistan will hold parliamentary elections early in the new year the prime minister said today.

Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz said a caretaker government would be set up to organise the polls in January, but did not give a specific date.

"The elections would be held in a free and fair manner, and international observers would also be invited" to monitor them, Aziz told reporters.

The announcement comes after Pervez Musharraf, who has dominated Pakistani politics since seizing power in a 1999 coup, scored an overwhelming victory in a weekend presidential election.

The Supreme Court has ruled that the results can only become official when it has ruled on complaints that Musharraf was not eligible to run.

However, few analysts expect the judges to disqualify Musharraf, who has said he will give up his powerful position as head of the army only after securing a new five-year term.

Manoeuvring for the parliamentary vote is already in full swing.

Musharraf has been in talks with ex-premier Benazir Bhutto that could see them share power if her party makes gains in the parliamentary vote.

Both are pro-American and have called for moderate forces to join hands to reverse a resurgence of Taliban and al Qaida militants along the Afghan border.

However, Musharraf - who on Friday issued an order to quash pending corruption cases against Bhutto and other politicians - faces resistance from within the conservative ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Q party, whose leaders could be sidelined by a Bhutto comeback.

Opposition parties largely boycotted Saturday's presidential vote in order to undermine the legitimacy of Musharraf's re-election.

The Supreme Court is considering petitions arguing that Musharraf should have been disqualified under a constitutional bar on public servants running for elected office.

The court's next hearing is set for next Wednesday, just a day before Bhutto plans to make a tumultuous return from eight years in self-exile.

In a recorded interview aired by Pakistan's ARY news channel today, Musharraf urged Bhutto to delay her return to Pakistan until he overcomes the legal challenge.

"I would say she should not come before" the court verdict. "She should come later, after the 18th (of October)," he said.

When asked how he would react if the court disqualified him, he said, "We will cross the bridge when we reach it."

Musharraf's current term, like that of Parliament, expires on November 15.

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