Pakistan poll prompts plea to expats

Mohammed Nawaz Sharif, running strong in the final three days before the Pakistan polls, took a cue from John Major in his campaign tactics yesterday by sending a message to the expatriate Pakistan community in Britain just as the British Prime Minister did on a state visit to the sub-continent several weeks ago.

After he flew by helicopter to four packed stadium rallies in the Punjab, to shore up support for his Pakistan Muslim League, the former prime minister said: "I want to create the right kind of climate to encourage their return. My message is ... please come back as soon as possible."

"And bring your money," added a jocular aide.

The near bankruptcy of Pakistan, which also suffers from a brain drain which might ultimately prove as devastating as the systematic theft of reserve funds through graft, is the theme for most of the front-runner's campaign. "It's time to run this government like a business," a Muslim League spokesman said. "Accountability is a must."

Nawaz Sharif, who was deposed as premier on corruption charges in 1993 only to regain office five weeks later, harks back to a more stable economy under his administration. "Our position was vindicated," he said."Now perhaps Benazir Bhutto will take a nosedive."

The morning after the deposed premier Benazir Bhutto's petition to be reinstated was ruled out by the Supreme Court on Wednesday, voters could be sure for the first time in this campaign that elections would proceed as announced. Throngs of cheering supporters at each stop were buoyed by this small certainty. They had been dreading another round of musical chairs in Islamabad.

President Farooq Ahmed Leghari, who had threatened to resign if this dissolution motion was overturned, said the Supreme Court ruling was a "victory for democracy." Loyal since 1977 to Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party, the President denied that he was now switching allegiance to her rival Nawaz Sharif. "We have always been opposed," he said. "If I had ulterior motives I would not have let her carry on for so long. She made the mistake of not seeing any difference between her personal interest and the interest of the state. There was a slide down after her marriage."

"As president, I did not wish to downgrade her, or hurt her or weaken her," he continued. "My effort was to give her positive advice. She was really digging her own grave and hurting the system. She thought she was too clever and too wise."

Benazir Bhutto reiterates how a conspiracy to force her out of political life should not be allowed to succeed. No one in Pakistan underestimates her will or her desire to hold power for a third term.

"Does Pakistan need this woman as prime minister?" President Leghari asked. "That is for the people of Pakistan to decide. We have a number of cases ... But for the credibility of the electoral process it's important to keep two or three major players in the field. We could have moved earlier but I wanted them to take part in elections."

Once the election results are in next Monday, the President is determined to halt any further plundering of Pakistan's wealth.