ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- In a tough, nationally televised speech on the eve of elections here, Pakistani President Ghulam Ishaq Khan defended dismissing Benazir Bhutto from office with a sweeping diatribe last night against her regime.
The half-hour speech represented a partisan counterattack by the 77-year-old, longtime bureaucrat, who dismissed Ms. Bhutto as prime minister Aug. 6 and became her chief target in the waning weeks of a vicious election campaign.
Pakistan's president, according to the country's constitution, is supposed to be non-partisan. All election speeches are banned by law the day before elections.
Ms. Bhutto's former press secretary, Kamran Shafi, called the speech "absolutely improper."
President Khan "is again definitely canvassing for" the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad party, Ms. Bhutto's main political opponent, Mr. Shafi said. "He is proving that he is not first the president of Pakistan, but really the president of the IJI."
Also yesterday, Ms. Bhutto's opponents in the caretaker government appointed by President Khan brought a seventh charge of corruption against her, this one involving government appointments. The charges could eventually disqualify her from holding office -- no matter the outcome of today's vote.
In his speech, President Khan charged that Ms. Bhutto's government had "insulted and negated" democracy during her 20 months as prime minister.
During her tenure, Pakistan's people "were witness to the fact that . . . the line between right and wrong, just and unjust was obliterated. . . . Decisions were dictated by expediencies and were no longer based on justice. . . . Official favors were done on the basis of political considerations rather than merit," he said.
He also claimed that she prevented Pakistan's government from functioning, violated human rights, misused secret funds and made "wholesale and indiscriminate appointments" to government posts.
The president said that Pakistan's armed forces would be used, if necessary, to ensure law and order during today's vote. More than 30,000 troops already have been deployed to the strife-torn province of Sind, a Bhutto stronghold.
Though Ms. Bhutto's popularity here was at a low ebb at the time of her dismissal, she has made a decided comeback in recent weeks, building to a massive campaign finale that clogged the streets of Lahore Monday night with hundreds of thousands of supporters.
Nevertheless, most political analysts here believe that her Pakistan People's Party is likely to win only about the same number of National Assembly seats as it did in her first election campaign in 1988 -- a plurality of seats, but short of a majority.
Because most other Pakistani political parties have shifted into an alliance with the IJI, anything short of a majority of PPP seats in the assembly after this election is likely to mean that she will not return as prime minister.