KARACHI, Pakistan – The opposition party of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto asked Pakistan's election commission Monday to stop government officials from allegedly providing support to candidates who back the country's military leader.
The Pakistan People's Party submitted a letter to the commission complaining that the governors of Sindh and Punjab provinces have been supplying government resources to four or five parties that support President Gen. Pervez Musharraf.
Election Commission Chairman Irshad Hassan Khan has said the allegation is under investigation. Governors and other government officials are supposed to be neutral in the Oct. 10 parliamentary elections.
The complaint came on the deadline for filing nomination papers to run in the election, which is designed to restore civilian rule to Pakistan.
Both Bhutto and exiled former prime minister Nawaz Sharif had filed papers by Monday's deadline -- but under laws Musharraf has enacted, neither one of them legally is eligible to run.
One of the laws bans anyone who already has served two terms -- as both former prime ministers have -- and a second bans anyone who has been convicted of a felony.
Bhutto, who lives in self-exile in London and the United Arab Emirates, was convicted of corruption in absentia and has 12 other cases of corruption pending against her. Musharraf said Bhutto would be arrested if she returned to the country.
Bhutto's backers have filed a petition asking an appeals court to overturn the laws that prevent her from running.
It was not clear what action Sharif would take: He and members of his family voluntarily went into exile in Saudi Arabia in December 2000 in exchange for his release from prison on various charges.
Musharraf overthrew Sharif in a bloodless military coup in October 1999. He has accused both former prime ministers of widespread corruption and ineffective leadership.
Sharif's attorney, Rashid Makhdoomi, filed the former premier's nomination papers for him on Monday in the eastern city of Lahore.
Dozens of Sharif supporters chanted "Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif" and others distributed sweets to passers-by.
"Nawaz Sharif is coming back to contest the elections," said Raja Zafarul Haq, chairman of Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League.
The election commission on Tuesday will begin the process of weeding through the applications and has promised to announce by Sept. 2 which candidates will appear on the ballot.
Opposition leaders say no one will have a clean shot at the elections if the government continues to unfairly support pro-Musharraf candidates, whom the opposition have dubbed members of the "King's Party."
"The Pakistan People's Party has continuously brought it to the attention of the Election Commission that governor houses (offices) ... have been virtually converted into the election offices for candidates of the 'king's party'," Mian Raza Rabbani, acting secretary-general of Bhutto's party, said in a letter to the commission.
"People have doubts about the military regime's claims of a fair and free election and this kind of activity ... is only enforcing those doubts," Rabbani said.
Earlier this month, Pakistan's main opposition alliance, the 15-party Alliance for Restoration of Democracy, lodged a similar accusation against the government, accusing Musharraf directly of "pre-rigging" the elections by ordering provincial government officials to help the parties that favor him.
Bhutto and Sharif are among hundreds of candidates who have filed papers to run for National Assembly and provincial legislature seats in the elections.
The parties of the two former prime ministers are even considering alliances with groups of conservative Islamic clerics to gain a parliamentary majority that would allow them to fight unpopular constitutional amendments Musharraf passed last week to extend and strengthen his power.