FAISALABAD, Pakistan — President Pervez Musharraf said Thursday that Monday's national elections would be free and fair and warned opposition parties not to indulge in "agitation, anarchy or chaos" if they didn't like the results.
His remarks seemed intended to counter widespread expectations that the government plans to rig the National Assembly elections to prevent a victory by the Pakistan Peoples Party and other opposition groups.
"Let there be no doubt that anyone will be allowed to resort to lawlessness in the garb of allegations about rigging in the elections," Musharraf was quoted as telling a seminar of government officials in Islamabad by the state-run Associated Press of Pakistan. "Let this serve as a warning to all those who think they can disturb the peace of the country. They will not be allowed. Do not test the resolve of the government."
"No agitation, anarchy or chaos can be acceptable," he said. "I assure you that the elections will be fair, free, and transparent and peaceful."
The elections would end eight years of military rule that began with a coup led by Musharraf.
Fears that the polls will be fixed have been stoked by a series of public opinion surveys showing the Pakistan Peoples Party and other parties poised to capture enough seats to begin impeachment proceedings against Musharraf for controversial constitutional changes he imposed last year to extend his grip on power.
His standing, and that of the party that supports him, the Pakistan Muslim League-Q, also has been hurt by skyrocketing prices, shortages of electricity, gas and wheat, a failure to contain the Islamic insurgency based in the tribal area bordering Afghanistan and Pakistan's support for the Bush administration's fight against al Qaida.
Musharraf delivered his warning as the widower of assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, Asif Ali Zadari, held a final campaign rally in the same dusty park where his wife gave her first political address in 1977.
Security was intense, reflecting a surge in suicide bombings that's included attacks on opposition campaign rallies. Police sharpshooters scanned the crowds from rooftops and black-clad commandos stood among scores of security men deployed around the stage.
The stage was set far back from fences of steel scaffolding and barbed wire that restrained the flag- and banner-waving crowd of about 6,000, and Zadari spoke from behind a podium made of bulletproof glass and steel.
His speech, typical of Pakistani political campaigns, resounded with dramatic rhetoric but offered no specific prescriptions for how the party would solve the colossal problems facing the country of 165 million.
"Benazir was a martyr. She believed in you, in the brothers and sisters, and I also believe in you," he shouted.
He sought to drape himself in the mantle of the political dynasty that Bhutto's father, former Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, started and that's due to be passed to her son, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, after he finishes college in Britain.
"I have come to Faisalabad to save Pakistan because it is the Pakistan of Benazir Bhutto, it is the Pakistan of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and I have to give this Pakistan to Bilawal Bhutto Zardari as well," Zadari said.
Without mentioning Musharraf by name, Zardari, who assumed joint chairmanship of the party with his son after Bhutto's slaying, said that it was time "to change our system."
It was his first major rally in Punjab province. With more than half the population and nearly half the National Assembly's 342 seats, Punjab holds the key to the polls.
The city is beset by many of the woes that have helped drive down the standing of Musharraf and the Pakistan Muslim League-Q throughout the country.
Faisal Hussain, a 53-year-old father of six, said that the textile mill where he worked operated for only two hours a day because of gas and electricity shortages.
"We get paid for only two hours a day,"' he said as he waited for Zardari to appear. "It is not enough to support a family."
McClatchy Newspapers 2008