Islamabad: According to a US Republican party survey President General Pervez Musharraf is more popular in Pakistan than opposition leaders Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, an independent Pakistani newspaper reported yesterday.

The survey ranked Benazir second and Sharif third in terms of popularity after President Musharraf, said English daily Dawn, pointing out that it managed to obtain the survey's broad findings that were yet to be made public.

The International Republican Institute (IRI) of the party had ordered the survey and the institute's officials made a presentation on it to Benazir in Dubai last week and to Sharif in London earlier, the report said.

More people

The newspaper said the reaction of the exiled former prime ministers was not known but they could take heart that more people now wanted them to be allowed to return home to contest the next general election 70 per cent against 66 per cent in a previous IRI survey in June.

Pakistan Peoples Party chairperson Benazir beat President Musharraf in popularity in her home province of Sindh and the survey rated the party the most favoured in Sindh and North West Frontier Province, which is currently ruled by an alliance of six Islamist parties Muttahida Majlis Amal (MMA).

PPP came number two in Balochistan and number three in Punjab.

The survey shows that MMA leads in Balochistan while the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Q is at the top in Punjab, which is home to 60 per cent of Pakistan's 160-million people and has a lion's share of seats in the parliament. Sharif's PML-N was rated runner-up to PML-Q in Punjab.

Among popular political personalities rated on a scale from 1 to 5, General Musharraf emerges at the top with 3.47 points, Benazir trails with 3.31 points, Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz 3.18 and Nawaz Sharif 3.17. In Sindh Benazir has been rated at 3.91 and General Musharraf at 3.1.

Shade better

Around 37 per cent of the respondents were of the view that PML-Q deserved to be re-elected, according to the survey, which adds that PML-Q was found to be a shade more popular than Benazir's PPP at the national level, their respective ratings being 3.4 and 3.3.

However, in Sindh the PPP was at the top with a rating of 3.84, while the PML-Q scored only 2.8.

The PML-N occupied the third place in the country with a rating of 3.09 and also in Sindh with score of 2.45.

To the question which party they would vote for if the elections for National Assembly were held next week, 27.4 per cent respondents named PML-Q and 22 per cent PPP. But in Sindh 46 per cent of the respondents said they would vote for PPP and 14 per cent favoured PML-Q.

Another surprising finding was that 22 per cent of the respondents thought Aziz would be the best prime minister. On that count, Benazir scored a respectable 19 per cent and Nawaz Sharif only 11 per cent. A significant 16 per cent did not know who could be the best prime minister.

In the last IRI survey in June Benazir was at the top of the best prime minister category.

Fifty-two per cent of the respondents believed that elections under a neutral caretaker government would be more transparent. Opposition parties have been saying that free and fair polls cannot be held under Musharraf, but 36 per cent of the respondents disagreed with the notion. Thirty-seven per cent believed the ruling coalition "has done its job well enough".

Your comments

Once he looses US support, he will be lost like General Ziaul Huq. I wish that he will establish an independent election commission and punish corrupt people.

My vote also goes in favour of President Musharraf. I appeal to my countrymen to forget past leaders and think only about positive change.

Musharraf deserves the No. 1 rank. Moreover, he has guts to do much more for Pakistan compared to others.

I agree that what President Musharaff has done would have been difficult for others to do.

World media and leadership are responsible for inventing a new type of democracy that is headed by a man in military uniform.