ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf issued a warning to opposition parties to accept the result of Monday’s election and not resort to agitation if it goes against them, while guaranteeing it will be free and fair.
“They should not be under any illusion that they will bring people to the streets after the election. Nothing of that sort will be allowed,” Musharraf said in comments at a seminar telecast on Thursday by state-run Pakistan Television.
“In this situation of extremism and terrorism, no agitation, anarchy or chaos can be acceptable.”
Musharraf, who came to power as a general in a 1999 coup, quit as army chief in November after securing a second five-year term in circumstances his foes describe as unconstitutional.
Monday’s vote is for a new National Assembly and provincial assemblies, and a hostile new parliament could seek his ouster.
Opposition parties have accused the government of trying to rig the polls to favor Musharraf’s allies and have threatened to launch protests if they feel cheated.
“Don’t show arrogance, if you win, and show grace, if you lose, accept the results,” Musharraf said, rejecting the opposition’s allegations.
“I am conscious of the fact that the elections should be free, fair and transparent and they have to be seen free, fair and transparent and also peaceful. The entire world is watching us,” he said.
“I guarantee that these will be free and fair.”
He said there could be lower-level tactical irregularities by candidates but the government would not be involved.
The United States and Pakistan’s other Western allies fear instability in nuclear-armed Pakistan could play into the hands of militants linked to al Qaeda and the Taliban.
However, U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters that “people have the right to peacefully protest and to peacefully speak ... their opinions, regardless of whether those opinions are supportive of a government and its policies or not.”
Violence has intensified in the country in the run-up to the vote that was delayed from January 8 after the assassination of opposition leader and former prime minister Benazir Bhutto.
Her Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), led by her widower Asif Ali Zardari, is expected to emerge as the largest party in the 342-seat National Assembly partly due to sympathy.
Earlier this week Zardari met with Nawaz Sharif, the prime minister Musharraf overthrew, to discuss how to fight for democracy. Zardari said the PPP would go to “any extent” to protest a rigged election, without elaborating.
Protected by bullet-proof glass Zardari told supporters in Faisalabad that Pakistan had been turned into “a hell” during the past eight years.
“On February 18, you will have to choose between those who have broken Pakistan or those who can save it,” he told a crowd of around 6,000 in the industrial city in central Punjab province.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Wednesday said she was concerned about election violence in Pakistan.
At least 24 people have been killed and more than 30 wounded in bomb attacks on political workers in the last week alone.
Paramilitary troops, who stepped up patrols in the election run-up, said they had confiscated a haul of weapons parts including rifle scopes and rocket launcher sights during a check on southern Sindh province’s main highway on Monday, and arrested a man from Swat, a militant-troubled region in the northwest.
Musharraf described Monday’s vote as “mother of all elections” and urged international opinion poll firms not to “incite trouble” by pre-judging results.
A BBC World Service/Gallup Pakistan poll, conducted in late January, found that almost two-thirds of Pakistanis say the prompt resignation of Musharraf would improve security, while less than a third view his November re-election as valid.
(For a Reuters blog on Pakistan please see http:blogs//reuters.com/pakistan)
Additional reporting by Arshad Mohammed in Washington; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Eric Walsh
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