ISLAMABAD Seventy-five percent of Pakistanis want President Pervez Musharraf to quit, according to a survey released by the U.S.-based International Republican Institute on Monday.
Released a week before Pakistan votes in an election that could precipitate U.S. ally Musharraf's downfall if it returns a hostile parliament, the IRI survey also said Musharraf's job approval rating had dropped to a new low of 15 percent.
Another opinion poll, published by Gallup Pakistan, put the number of people who thought Musharraf should resign at 81 percent, but the number of people surveyed was far fewer than
The assassination of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto on December 27, according to IRI, "greatly impacted the political landscape".
It said her Pakistan People's Party (PPP) was "benefiting from both a wave of sympathy as well as a backlash against the government".
Conducted in late January, the IRI survey showed 50 percent of respondents said they would vote for the PPP, while 22 percent favoured the party of Nawaz Sharif, the prime minister Musharraf ousted in a 1999 coup, and only 14 percent backed the Pakistan Muslim League, which has provided Musharraf's political prop.
The West, and neighbouring countries are increasingly uneasy at the prospect of instability in a nuclear-armed Muslim state, that is fighting militants linked to the Taliban and Al Qaeda.
Only 33 percent of respondents to the IRI survey supported the Pakistan army "fighting extremists in North West Frontier Province and the tribal areas".
Just nine percent thought Pakistan should be cooperating with the United States in the war on terrorism, though 65 percent recognised that Taliban and al Qaeda's operations in the country were of serious concern.
The government and the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency have both made a Pakistani Taliban commander linked to al Qaeda the prime suspect in Bhutto's killing, but the survey showed only 13 percent of respondents blamed al Qaeda.
Sixty-two percent said the government was responsible, according to IRI.
"This indicates a collapse in the government's credibility among its citizens," IRI said.
The survey polled 3,485 men and women from urban and rural constituencies.
Pakistan will hold polls for the National Assembly and provincial assemblies on February 18, and, while it is not a presidential election, a hostile parliament could seek Musharraf's impeachment.
Opponents say the way Musharraf secured a second term from the outgoing parliament was unconstitutional. He declared emergency rule on November 3 in order to replace Supreme Court judges who might have annulled his re-election by the old assemblies.
IRI said that whatever goodwill Musharraf retrieved by ending emergency rule in mid-December, quitting as army chief and declaring parliamentary elections, was lost in the wake of Bhutto's assassination, a deteriorating security situation, and a worsening economy.
Nearly 77 percent of respondents said economic issues --inflation, unemployment, poverty and development-- would be the main factors determining how they would vote. Inflation was the top issue for 55 percent.
Asked if there was one leader who was the best person to handle the country's problems only eight percent named Musharraf, 15 points less than IRI's last survey taken in late November.
(Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)