Sharif, Bhutto Sign Up to Run in Vote

LAHORE, Pakistan -- Former Pakistani prime ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif signed up on Monday to run in a January election while a spokesman for President Pervez Musharraf said he would be sworn in as a civilian on Thursday.

Both Sharif and Bhutto said they might yet boycott the Jan. 8 general election, which is being organized under emergency rule that U.S. ally Musharraf imposed on Nov. 3, largely to derail legal challenges to his bid to secure another term.

Sharif, ousted by President Musharraf eight years ago, flew home from Saudi Arabia on Sunday, saying Musharraf had taken the country to the brink of disaster.

Two-time Prime Minister Sharif said he would not be a candidate for prime minister under Musharraf, who had to reinstate the judges he purged after declaring the emergency. Sharif also said he retained the option of boycotting the elections.

"We don't want to boycott elections, but if you push somebody to the wall, then what are the options left?" Sharif said at a news conference in Lahore.

"The boycott remains a very potent option for the opposition," said Sharif, who was deported when he tried to come back in September.

But the political atmosphere has changed radically since then, with Musharraf's imposition of emergency rule and the apparent breakdown of efforts to forge cooperation between him and Bhutto.

Musharraf, having secured a second five-year term, thanks to a new panel of friendly judges who validated his Oct. 6 election victory, will quit as army chief and take the oath as a civilian president on Thursday, his spokesman said.