Sharif ready to maul election rivals as Bhutto is forced on to the hustings

Former PM shrugs off court defeat, reports Jan McGirk

Karachi - When the Supreme Court ruled against Benazir Bhutto's desperate appeal to be reinstated as Prime Minister of Pakistan yesterday, she began campaigning in earnest for the first time in these lacklustre elections. There was only one justice who ruled in favour of the woman who had split her Pakistan People's Party into bitter factions.

Following the decision in Islamabad, Ms Bhutto did not criticise the judiciary and told a packed press conference that she was not surprised. With advance warning that her ploy would fail, she was prepared to battle on at the hustings for a third term. But with only four days left before polling, success looks increasingly unlikely. No matter how convincingly she tries to play the martyr, Ms Bhutto and her husband, Asif Zardari, are portrayed in cartoons as the Bonnie and Clyde of the sub-continent.

The symbol for the Pakistan Muslim League party of the leading contender, Mian Mohammed Nawaz Sharif, is the tiger. Promising to change his stripes after coming back from charges of corruption similar to those which brought down Ms Bhutto's government last November, Mr Sharif appears supremely confident. But he still views Imran Khan, trailing badly in the race for prime minister, as a spoiler, even though the neophyte politician has little chance of bringing the old tiger down or silencing his personal attacks on Mr Khan's playboy past. The cricket hero attracts curious throngs of young men wherever he tours, but many of them appear too young to vote for his Movement for Justice (Tehreek-i-Insaaf).

Ms Bhutto and her party cast doubts over the election process with her petition to the Supreme Court, which demanded reinstatement because President Farooq Leghari has failed to prove his allegations of graft and custodial deaths during a clean-up of ethnic gangs in Karachi. Touring Sind province, her ancestral stronghold, Ms Bhutto managed to rouse a loyal crowd. However, although potshots aimed at her helicopter on Monday injured no one, they show that she is not nearly as secure as she used to be, even on home ground.

Mr Sharif jokes to his audiences about Ms Bhutto's predicament, having bounced back from the same circumstances, and gets laughter and applause when he speaks knowingly of her "reversal of fortune". By contrast, her strident hectoring rarely rouses much spontaneous response. At the outset of the campaign, Ms Bhutto declared imperiously: "We will not accept the results where we do not win."

The shadow of the army, which has had a hand in several past coups, will hang over any new government elected in Pakistan's fourth parliamentary election in just eight years. After the excesses of violence and intrigue of the past three years, some citizens no longer dread interference from the generals. "It's a farce," Arif Ali, a businessman, protested to the Karachi-based magazine Newsline. "Martial law is and has been better than this half-baked democracy."

Nawaz Sharif is suspected by rivals of agreeing not to field candidates against the President. Members of the Islamicist party, Jamaat-i-Islami, have threatened to disrupt the voting on 3 February. General Hamid Gul, the former intelligence chief who distanced himself from his former protege Imran Khan, said last week: "This election is not going to be productive. It will be disastrous and will bring more misery." Pakistan will soon find out.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

SThree: Recruitment Resourcer

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Uncapped Commission: SThree: Do you want to get in...

Ashdown Group: Project Manager - Birmingham - up to £40,000 - 12 month FTC

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Manager - Birmingham - ...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before