"There was no consensus among the opposition parties about boycott of the election, so we have decided to take part in the election," Ahsan Iqbal, spokesman for the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N), said at the meeting.

Referendum call

Iqbal said Sharif wanted the vote to be a referendum on reinstating the judges that Musharraf removed from their positions when he declared the state of emergency on November 3.
   

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"After failing to get [Bhutto's] Pakistan People's party on board, he does not want the field to remain open for all Musharraf's loyalists and he wants to turn the election into a referendum," he said.
   
"We should ask people to vote for us if they want restoration of the judiciary, so that we can block their attempt to legitimise the November 3 action through parliament."

The announcement came as Pervez Musharraf, Paksitan's president, said that he would lift the state of emergency in the country on December 15, confirming remarks by the attorney-general that it would end a day earlier than previously planned.

"I give commitments which I always follow and honour," Musharraf said in the interview on CNN's Late Edition. He also promised that the parliamentary elections would be "free and fair".

The two former prime ministers were divided on whether to insist that the judges, several of which are under house arrest, should be restored to their positions before the vote, and on whether to issue a deadline for other demands they did agree on.

Deposed judges

Sharif is calling for the judges to be reinstated before the election, while Bhutto says the next parliament should decide whether the deposed judges, which include Iftikhar Chaudhry, the former chief justice, should be given their jobs back.

Musharraf has rejected allegations that
January's election will be rigged [AFP]
Bhutto argued that a boycott would leave the field open for Musharraf's allies to dominate parliament. She says she reserves the right to protest after the vote if she deems it was rigged.

Iqbal said several parties - including Jamat-e-Islami, several nationalist parties and the party of Imran Khan, the former Pakistan cricketer - were still pressing for a boycott.

"By going to the polls, in fact we will give legitimacy to Pervez Musharraf and his illegal acts," Syed Munawar Hasan, secretary general of Jamat-e-Islami, said.
   
In the interview with CNN, Musharraf rejected the allegations that the elections would be fixed, saying: "These are comments as a preparation for defeat.
  
"We will congratulate any one who does win. Let there be no crying like they are now doing."

Source: Agencies