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Mon 11 Feb 2008 03:16 PM

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75% Pakistanis want Musharraf out

US poll shows three out of four citizens want president to resign, with majority favouring Bhutto family.

Three out of four Pakistanis want President Pervez Musharraf to resign and a majority want the political party of slain opposition leader Benazir Bhutto to replace him, a survey from the the US-based International Republican Institute on Monday has revealed.

Musharraf's job approval rating has also dropped to a new low of 15%, the IRI survey also said, released a week before Pakistan votes in a new parliamentary election, Reuters reported.

Conducted in late January, the survey showed 50% of respondents said they would vote for the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), the party of assassinated former prime minister Bhutto, while 22% favoured the party of Nawaz Sharif, the prime minister ousted by Musharraf in a 1999 coup.

Only 14% of the respondents backed the Pakistan Muslim League, which has acted as Musharraf's political prop since his rise to power.

The PPP is currently led by Bhutto's 19-year old son, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari as PPP chairman and her husband Asif Zardari as co-chairman, in accordance with the slain leader's will.

"Our vote is for Benazir Bhutto, and her son should become prime minister," said Ghous Bux, 25, in Pakistan this week, reported Reuters.

Oxford University first-year student, Bilawal, has said he plans to pursue his mother's legacy after completing his studies.

Another opinion poll, published by Gallup Pakistan, placed the number of people wanting Musharraf to quit power at 81%, but the number of people surveyed was far fewer than IRI.

IRI said Bhutto's assassination on December 27 had "greatly impacted the political landscape" and her party was "benefiting from both a wave of sympathy as well as a backlash against the government".

GOVERNMENT HELD RESPONSIBLE

The Pakistani government and the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) have both made a Pakistani Taliban commander linked to Al Qaeda the prime suspect in Bhutto's killing, but the survey showed only 13% of respondents blamed Al Qaeda.

The government was responsible for Bhutto's killing, said 62% of repondents in the IRI survey.

"This indicates a collapse in the government's credibility among its citizens," IRI said. No comparison figures for government support by citizens prior to the survey or since Musharraf's assumption of power were given in the survey.

The survey polled 3,485 men and women from urban and rural constituencies.

Pakistan will hold polls for the National Assembly and provincial assemblies on February 18, and, while it is not a presidential election, a hostile parliament may seek Musharraf's impeachment.

Musharraf's methods for securing a second term from the outgoing parliament have been criticised as unconstitutional by opponents. He declared emergency rule on November 3 in order to replace Supreme Court judges who may have annulled his re-election by the old assemblies.

IRI said that any goodwill Musharraf retrieved by ending emergency rule in mid-December, quitting as army chief and declaring parliamentary elections, was lost in the wake of Bhutto's assassination, a deteriorating security situation, and a worsening economy.

Nearly 77% of respondents said economic issues - inflation, unemployment, poverty and development - would be the main factors determining how they would vote. Inflation was the top issue for 55%.

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