Bhutto optimistic about power deal with Musharraf

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The Independent Online

The former Pakistan prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, has raised expectations of sealing a power-sharing deal with Pervez Musharraf on the eve of his expected election to a new term as president tomorrow.

Ms Bhutto, who has been criticised in Pakistan for negotiating with the military leader, pulled her opposition Pakistan People's Party (PPP) back from a threatened boycott of the vote by federal and provincial legislators, saying that she was now "optimistic" on reaching a national reconciliation deal with the president. But speaking after a meeting of the PPP in London, Ms Bhutto made clear that the party members would not be voting for General Musharraf as he was "a uniformed president". The PPP does not have sufficient numbers to prevent his election, however.

"General Musharraf has said he wants national reconciliation," she said. "We want that too." But, "there is many a slip between the cup and the lip", she went on. "Until we see the national reconciliation bill in print form we would not be able to confirm where we stand. But we are now optimistic that this is going through."

The proposed deal for a democratic transition, on which negotiations have reached fever pitch after seven months of discreet talks, provides for an amnesty for corruption charges against Ms Bhutto who served two terms as prime minister before being overthrown and forced into exile. She also wants the president to give up his power to sack the prime minister, and is demanding the repeal of a law banning anyone from being prime minister for more that two terms, which she says could be addressed in further talks.

General Musharraf is looking for PPP support to shore up his own position in parliamentary elections scheduled to take place by mid-January. He has addressed another key PPP demand by promising to shed his uniform following his election, and named his successor as army chief earlier this week.

The national reconciliation package would clear the way for Ms Bhutto to return to Pakistan and serve a third term as prime minister. She intends to fly to Karachi on 18 October and hopes to avoid the fate of another former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, who was deported to Saudi Arabia when he tried to return home last month. The planned amnesty would apply to other politicians, including Mr Sharif.