Bhutto widower open to Musharraf power share

Benazir Bhutto's husband and political successor has said the assassinated prime minister's party is prepared to share power with President Pervez Musharraf after next week's elections, but warned his supporters could take to the streets in protest if the ballot is rigged.

Asif Ali Zardari said Mr Musharraf's future depended on whether the unpopular former general was willing to work with parliament. "If the parliament can get the power, absolute power to the parliament, then we are willing to work with the circumstances and look for a better way out," he said. "We certainly want to give comfort to the world that we're not looking for revolutions, we're looking for evolutions."

A week before parliamentary elections, Mr Zardari has emerged as the Pakistan People's Party's chief campaigner, having assumed leadership of the country's largest party on the instructions of Ms Bhutto's will. Though there has been speculation he may seek to become prime minister in the event of a PPP victory, the new "co-chairperson" of the party denied such ambitions. He said he would work outside parliament, in a role similar to India's Sonia Gandhi, until his son, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, completed his studies.

"I can only carry the party and the sentiments of the people till the day of the election. If the election is robbed from the people, if the people are disenfranchised, then I'm sorry I won't be able to stop the people's revolt."

The PPP is widely tipped to perform well in next week's polls, benefiting from a wave of sympathy after Ms Bhutto's assassination in December. But most observers believe even if the party took the most seats, it would be forced to forge alliances in the expected event of a hung parliament.

"We intend to win the elections," said Mr Zardari at Bilawal House, the family home named after his son. "We want to form a government with our allies, in spite of the situation the country is in. We want to take it out of the mess that the present government has got it into."

Among the allies Mr Zardari cited is the former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, the once-bitter rival who has been campaigning to dislodge Mr Musharraf. But a senior aide to Pakistan's President claimed the PPP was set to form a "rainbow coalition" with the pro-Musharraf PML-Q and other parties it historically regarded with distaste. "The People's Party is ready to work with Mr Musharraf and the military establishment," said Mushahid Hussain, secretary general of PML-Q. "It has been in the political wilderness for 12 years, eagerly vying for power."

Mr Zardari said: "He probably knows something I don't know. Because in our party we have decided that we will look at the question of working with whom when we get past the elections."

The widower is a source of considerable controversy, and was nicknamed "Mr 10 Per Cent" for the alleged kickbacks from government contracts. Some analysts believe this perception may drain some PPP support. But an opinion poll yesterday by the International Republican Institute suggested the PPP's support stood at 50 per cent.

About 75 per cent of respondents said Mr Musharraf should resign immediately. Opposition parties and human rights groups have alleged the government has been manipulating the electoral process for the benefit of PML-Q. Among the evidence cited is the absence of a neutral election commissioner, caretaker government and judiciary.

Mr Zardari also repeated his call for a UN investigation into his wife's death, dismissing the conclusions of Scotland Yard detectives who said that she did not die from gunshot wounds. "[They have] been assisted by wrong advice from the government of Pakistan ... How do we know that the X-ray that they showed to them was her X-ray and not somebody else's?"

He added: "Scotland Yard's report, at best, is based on the findings of the government of Pakistan."