Musharraf Paves Way for Re-Election

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:18 PM EDT

( - Bolstering his bid to be re-elected on Saturday as Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf has named the man who will succeed him as army chief if he wins. He also reportedly struck a deal that will guarantee support from an influential former prime minister.

Officials confirmed Tuesday that the government would drop criminal charges pending against Benazir Bhutto, who fled the country in 1999 after being accused of financial corruption while in power.

Bhutto plans to return home from London later this month, and has been negotiating with Musharraf for the past several months on a possible power-sharing arrangement. She would support the embattled president, and if her Pakistan People's Party (PPP) wins parliamentary elections expected in December or January, she could be in line to become prime minister for a third term.

The announcements on amnesty and the naming of a new army chief were evidently designed to move the agreement ahead.

Musharraf, who seized power in a 1999 coup, has been facing growing calls from across Pakistan's political and civil spectrum to relinquish his military post if he wants to serve another term as president.

Members of Pakistan's national and provincial legislatures will vote in Saturday's election, which the incumbent is widely expected to win against challengers include a retired judge and a senior PPP politician.

In a bid to deny legitimacy to Musharraf's re-election, dozens of lawmakers this week resigned their seats in protest, including at least 85 members of the 342-seat National Assembly.

PPP lawmakers were not among them, but the party has been threatening to resign en bloc if an agreement with Musharraf was not achieved.

PPP executive members will meet with Bhutto in London Wednesday to discuss the potential power-sharing deal, Pakistani media reported.

On Tuesday, Musharraf named as his successor the army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, a former head of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence spy agency.

The military said in a statement that Kayani would become vice-chief of the army on Monday and assume the top post when Musharraf steps down from that position after the election.

Musharraf's supporters in the U.S. and elsewhere credit him for supporting efforts against Islamist terrorism in Pakistan and neighboring Afghanistan, at considerable cost to the Pakistani military and his own domestic standing.

Detractors say he is a despot who only agreed to help in the anti-terror campaign under threat from Washington in the days after 9/11, and whose cooperation since then has been erratic.

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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow