ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf’s approval rating nosedived 20 points in four months to 34 percent by early July, a month when his political standing suffered more blows, a U.S. survey released on Wednesday found.
It was the first time General Musharraf, who came to power in a 1999 coup, had scored approval ratings below 50 percent since the Washington-based International Republican Institute (IRI) began polling in 2002.
With elections looming in the coming months, Musharraf has tried to shore up his position by reaching out to self-exiled former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, the leader of the largest opposition party.
The poll showed 32 percent of Pakistanis believed Bhutto was the best leader to handle the problems, followed by Musharraf with 27 percent, reversing the positions in the last poll conducted in February/March.
The two main leaders of Pakistan’s Islamist parties only garnered seven percent between them.
The results will make gloomy reading for Musharraf, as his popularity probably declined further in July because of public disquiet over a heavy death toll resulting from the army’s siege and storming of Islamabad’s Red Mosque to crush a militant movement.
He took another bad knock on July 20, when the Supreme Court ruled against a military leader for the first time in its history, to restore a chief justice whom Musharraf had suspended four months earlier.
The outcry over Musharraf’s botched attempt to oust Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry had already helped reduce his approval ratings between March and the first days of July, analysts said.
When asked who they would choose as president, 39 percent of voters picked Bhutto and 30 percent said Musharraf.
Economic issues, not security problems, remained the greatest concerns for Pakistanis.
Fifty-one percent described inflation as the top issue, 19 percent cited unemployment and 13 percent said poverty.
The survey, taken between June 13 and July 3, polled 4,000 men and women from urban and rural communities in all four of Pakistan’s provinces.