ISLAMABAD - Pakistan's fractious opposition was split yesterday over whether to boycott upcoming general elections, with all eyes on the tough choice facing former prime minister Benazir Bhutto.
After consulting senior party aides, she was agonising over whether to take part in elections she has said would be deeply flawed, or withdraw her party and lose their seats in parliament.
Her Pakistan People's Party is the largest opposition group in the country, and a decision to contest the January 8 vote would render a mooted boycott by other parties effectively meaningless.
A senior member of her PPP said the party had not yet decided whether to order an immediate boycott, or file nomination papers and put off a final decision until later.
"We don't want to participate in elections because we know they are going to be rigged, but we want to build a tempo before arriving at any decision," the official said.
"We also want the boycott decision to be a collective one by all the opposition parties to make it effective."
Bhutto, who had been in power-sharing negotiations with Musharraf before he imposed emergency rule, returned to Pakistan last month after eight years in exile.
The last time her party boycotted elections in 1985, it led to the emergence on the political scene of Nawaz Sharif, who five years later succeeded Bhutto as premier.
Aides said the PPP's central committee was broadly in favour of taking part but some key figures were arguing it would lose them credibility.
Sharif, who leads his Pakistan Muslim League-N from exile in Saudi Arabia, said it was "not possible" to take part in elections under emergency rule, but has not categorically ruled it out.
Raja Zafar-ul Haq, who heads the party inside Pakistan, acknowledged there was no consensus.
He said they were in touch with other parties to draft a joint strategy.
"We will announce our decision in a day or two," he added, "but the broad agreement among the opposition parties is that either we all contest or we all boycott elections."
Sharif and Bhutto are both two-time former premiers, and observers believe neither will want to cede electoral advantage to the other.
The six-party Islamic fundamentalist MMA alliance is also deeply split. Its biggest party, the Jamiat-ulema-Islam, wants to take part, but the Jamaat-i-Islami has called for a boycott.
Imran Khan, who leads the Movement for Justice party, also favours a boycott but cautioned that a partial stayaway would be ineffective. - Sapa-AFP