Pakistan President Mohammed Zia ul-Haq yesterday barred political parties from contesting national parliamentary elections in November. The move is expected to infuriate opposition groups.
The opposition, riding a wave of renewed popularity, had warned the President not to tinker with the electoral system.
But Mr. Zia bluntly told a news conference: ``They will all have to conform to the rules that I lay down for the game.''
He could not stop parties campaigning, he said, but candidates would have to stand on their own right and would not be able to mark their party allegiances on the ballot papers.
Tikka Khan, secretary-general of the largest opposition group, the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), said: ``This is Zia's old policy of divide and rule and nonparty elections mean dividing the nation.
``Zia thinks that he can manipulate hundreds of people who will be elected and thus perpetuate his own rule.''
On Wednesday, PPP leader Benazir Bhutto warned that ``people will not tolerate attempts to change the ground rules to disenfranchise them in any way whatsoever.''
Mairaj Mohammed Khan, who heads the opposition National Liberation Front, condemned the move and said: ``Zia is bent upon the disintegration of the country.''
The President's decision, which came the day after he announced polls would be held on Nov. 16, repeats a ban on parties in the last elections in 1985.
At that the opposition refused to take any part and called on their supporters to boycott the poll.
Zia's announcement of the poll date infuriated opposition parties.
The elections were originally expected by August 27, 90 days after Zia dismissed the government of Mohammed Khan Junejo and dissolved the National Assembly (lower house).
Justifying his ban on parties, Zia said told the news conference that party-based elections might be fine for established democracies, but they could mislead simple people and inflame ethnic prejudices.
``That does not mean I am going to ban the parties,'' he said. ``I cannot because the situation today is different from what it was in 1985.
``In 1985 there was martial law in the country, the Constitution was held in abeyance, the political parties were banned.''
He denied he was violating the Constitution in barring the parties and called on them to use restraint to prevent violence on the streets.
Zia's move was not unexpected. Political analysts had predicted the President would not allow PPP leader Benazir Bhutto and her party to contest elections where they had a chance of forming a parliamentary majority.
If the PPP does not call a boycott of the polls as it did in 1985, it is conceivable that the party could still end up with reasonable representation in parliament, political analysts said.
After the last election, many members elected as individuals grouped together under the Pakistan Moslem League, and Zia said there was nothing stop the same happening again.