ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Opposition leaders appeared divided Friday on whether to contest parliamentary elections under President Pervez Musharraf, a day after he bowed to international pressure by saying he would end emergency rule ahead of the vote.
Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto said her opposition party planned to participate in the Jan. 8 elections "under protest."
"We're worried about the elections, we have our reservations, but we're going in under protest," Bhutto said in an interview with AP Television News. "We hope as we participate we can try and improve the situation."
She later launched her party's election manifesto, promising loans for small businesses and more money for education.
But she also suggested her Pakistan People's Party could still join a boycott by a united opposition. "We were thinking to contest the elections, but we are ready to change our mind to find a common goal, a common agenda," she said.
A boycott would be a serious setback to Musharraf's efforts to show he is restoring democracy.
In an interview with ABC, Musharraf said agitation by opposition parties would not be tolerated.
"Agitation means breaking down everything. Burning things ... we will stop it. That is the way it is in Pakistan," he said.
He answered sharply when pressed on Pakistani authorities readiness to lock up opponents.
"In your country, maybe you don't hang people. Here, we hang people. OK?" Musharraf told "Good Morning America." "We will not impose what you have in your country in Pakistan."
Asked about the chances of him sharing power with Bhutto — a pairing that would be welcomed in the West — Musharraf said he would "have to see, after the election, how things develop."
Nawas Sharif — another former prime minister who now heads a 33-member opposition coalition — said he would meet with Bhutto to explain the reasons for the proposed boycott.
He said Musharraf must reinstate the Supreme Court judges, who were fired after the Pakistani leader imposed emergency rule Nov. 3, to ensure the elections would not be rigged.
"We are saying 'Please, please for heaven's sake restore the judiciary ... Don't force us to boycott the elections,"' Sharif said in a telephone interview.
Musharraf had ruled Pakistan as a military dictator since 1999 when he overthrew Sharif in a coup. But he stepped down as military commander on Wednesday and has pledged to reinstate democracy, after coming under strong pressure President Bush. He said Thursday he would lift emergency rule on Dec. 16.
"There is no point in Musharraf taking off his uniform or lifting emergency rule unless the judiciary is reinstated with dignity and honor. Nothing else is going to help the country," Sharif said.
A U.S. senator who met with Bhutto at her house in Islamabad said his congressional delegation was encouraged that Bhutto would not boycott the vote.
"We know how important it is that her party participate, we hope all parties participate, otherwise it will be very difficult to put together ... a government that really serves the people," said Sen. Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican.
Musharraf has urged opposition parties to participate in the elections and help strengthen democracy. He said elections would be held as scheduled in January.
Washington and London welcomed that announcement.
"We hope that he follows through on that," White House press secretary Dana Perino said.
British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said his government looked forward to the end of the emergency and other restrictions. One major television channel and several radio stations remain blocked.