Hours after being sworn in to a second term, President Pervez Musharraf announced Thursday that he would lift his state of emergency on Dec. 16, leaving barely three weeks for election campaigning and setting the stage for further confrontation with his opposition.
Musharraf’s promise to lift the emergency came after he ended eight years of military rule on Wednesday and was another step toward meeting some of the most urgent demands both at home and abroad to return the country to democracy.
“I fully intend to lift the emergency on Dec. 16, to end the Provisional Constitutional Order and to hold fair and free elections according to the constitution,” he said in an address to the nation on state television and radio on Thursday evening.
“No destabilization or hurdle will be allowed in this democratic process,” he added. “Elections, God willing, will be held on Jan. 8 according to the constitution and no one should create any hurdles.”
Yet even before his announcement, an umbrella movement of opposition parties, the All Pakistan Democratic Movement, led by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, said they supported a boycott of the elections to protest the lack of democratic norms under the emergency.
Two leaders of the lawyers’ movement against Musharraf, who were released from detention on Thursday, also called for a boycott. One, Munir Malik, a constitutional lawyer and former president of the Supreme Court Bar, left an Islamabad hospital in a wheelchair and said the lawyers would renew their struggle.
Lawyers protesting Musharraf’s swearing-in clashed with police in the city of Lahore, and threw bricks, glasses and sticks at the police who blocked their demonstration. Several lawyers and police officers were injured.
Meanwhile, even as Musharraf announced a deadline for the end of the emergency, he showed no relaxation on the detention of the former judges and senior advocates of the Supreme Court, or of the continued suspension of radio and television stations.
Somber and dressed in a traditional black tunic favored by civilian leaders, Musharraf took his new oath in a ceremony layered with contradictions, lecturing diplomats afterward on what he termed their obsession with democracy.
The constitution Musharraf vowed “to preserve, protect and defend” was suspended three weeks ago when he imposed the emergency, which only he holds the power to rescind.
The presidential oath was administered by a Supreme Court chief justice, Abdul Hameed Dogar, whom Musharraf appointed after dismissing the previous Supreme Court, which seemed about to rule another term for him illegal.
The former chief justice, Mohammed Iftikhar Chaudhry, and a number of other Supreme Court justices remain under house arrest, meanwhile, as do four senior advocates who work at the court since the emergency was imposed.