Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Two Former Prime Ministers Vie for Power in Pakistan Election Bhutto Takes the Lead in Race Marked by Anti-Corruption Drive, Voter Dissatisfaction

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Two Former Prime Ministers Vie for Power in Pakistan Election Bhutto Takes the Lead in Race Marked by Anti-Corruption Drive, Voter Dissatisfaction

Article excerpt

PAKISTAN'S election campaign is in full swing as former prime ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif vie desperately for a comeback in Wednesday's parliamentary vote.

Each was ousted from office on corruption charges by President Ghulam Ishaq Khan long before their terms were completed. The charges made against Ms. Bhutto in 1989 were never proved and Mr. Sharif was later absolved and restored to office by the country's supreme court. But a continuing power struggle between Sharif and President Khan ended in their joint resignations in July, and the scheduling of next week's elections.

Bhutto is riding on the popularity of her father, former Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who was executed in 1979 after a military overthrow. Sharif draws his support from the business community and promises to continue his efforts to liberalize Pakistan's economy.

The elections are unique in Pakistan's political history in that they are the first in which candidates accused of drug trafficking or failing to pay back bank loans have been barred from the contest. At least eight known drug barons have been forbidden from running, and another former prime minister, Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi, has been barred from participating.

Interim Prime Minister Moeen Qureshi changed the election law in a wide-reaching drive to clean up government and society. In addition to barring candidates from running for office, he has ordered a large number of telephone and electricity customers, including politicians, to pay overdue bills or face immediate prosecution.

Enforcing of these anticorruption laws "has created a lot of confusion, because people were just not sure if one candidate or the other would be kept out" says a senior official. Most officials concede that such confusion was the main reason for a lackluster campaign until this week.

Mr. Sharif and Ms. Bhutto have intensified their campaigns during the past week, crisscrossing the country in helicopters and addressing large crowds of supporters. Each is delivering a message of hope and progress if his or her party is brought into power.

Bhutto's campaign message has been centered around criticism of alleged corruption during Sharif's 2 1/2 year rule. She has also promised to reorganize the government to give more powers to local governments to ease delays involved in clearing measures through Islamabad. …

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