Musharraf Weighing Key Concessions to Smooth Fraught Elections

President Pervez Musharraf could move to restore the credibility of Pakistan's elections by suspending local mayors and scrapping a two-term limit for prime ministers, a senior official said Friday.

Musharraf is considering whether to grant an opposition demand for the suspension of mayors to prevent them from influencing the vote, Attorney General Malik Mohammed Qayyum said.

"This is under the active consideration of the government and a decision I think is likely to be taken today or tomorrow," Qayyum said on Dawn News television. "I think now it's for the president to decide."

The U.S.-backed leader may also lift a ban on anyone serving more than twice as prime minister, he said.

That could ease his fraught relations with opposition leaders and archrivals Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif.

However, a senior member of Bhutto's party said removing the mayors less than four weeks before the elections was "eyewash" for the international community.

"Everything this regime wanted to do has already been done for its rigging plan," Senator Raza Rabbani said, alleging that biased police and officials were all in place.

Musharraf cast Pakistan into turmoil and raised serious doubts over the credibility of next month's parliamentary elections by imposing a state of emergency on Nov. 3.

He is expected to lift the emergency and restore the constitution on Saturday. But he still faces a barrage of criticism at home and abroad that the Jan. 8 ballot will be flawed.

Both Musharraf and his Western backers say they want the election to produce a stable, moderate government strong enough to stand up to a wave of Islamic militancy.

However, Musharraf has clamped down on independent media and purged the judiciary, prompting Bhutto and Sharif to warn of mass demonstrations if they think the vote has been rigged in favor of pro-Musharraf rivals.

Musharraf said he seized emergency powers to prevent political chaos and to give authorities a freer hand against Islamic militants. However, critics accuse him of making a power grab before the old Supreme Court could rule on the legality of his continuing as president.

Musharraf stepped down as army chief last month and has relaxed some of the restrictions.

Bhutto and Sharif have abandoned threats to boycott the elections, saying they cannot leave the field open to rivals, and are touring the country to stump for votes.

Sharif took aim at Musharraf on Friday when he unveiled his manifesto and listed the restoration of the judiciary and an end to military interference in politics as its first two goals.

"Repeated army intervention has caused the collapse of our institutions ... and halted Pakistan's economic growth," he told reporters in the eastern city of Lahore.

"If Pakistan can become a nuclear power, why can't it grow in the economic and industrial fields?" said Sharif, whose second premiership was ended by Musharraf's 1999 coup.

Bhutto, meanwhile asked the government to provide her with more security before a weekend trip to the southwestern city of Quetta, where two suicide bombers killed 10 people on Thursday.

Bhutto narrowly escaped a suicide bombing that killed 149 people during a parade to welcome her back from exile in the southern city of Karachi on Nov. 18.

Investigators have yet to identify those responsible for either that attack or Thursday's blasts in Quetta.

However, Musharraf has blamed a pro-Taliban warlord from the mountainous border zone for a spate of suicide attacks in Pakistan this year.

Jamming equipment provided by authorities to prevent the detonation of remote-controlled bombs near Bhutto's car is faulty, and she needs four police cars — instead of three — to shield her vehicle, party spokesman Farhatullah Babar said.