Pakistan election to be held in February, says official

Pakistan parliamentary elections scheduled for January 8 will be held in February, a senior election commission official told Agence France-Presse on Tuesday.

“Elections will not be delayed beyond February. We expect it to be towards the later part of next month,” the official said. The commission was to make a public announcement later in the day.

“We want the delay to be minimal. But the election commission needs a realistic amount of time to get things back on track,” he said, referring to the turmoil that has gripped the country after Benazir Bhutto’s assassination.

The election commission held an emergency meeting on Monday to discuss the situation in the wake of the bloody violence unleashed by Bhutto’s slaying, which has left at least 58 people dead.

The Parliament vote is seen as a final step in a transition to civilian-led democracy under President Pervez Musharraf, who grabbed power in the world’s only nuclear-armed Islamic nation in a 1999 military coup.

He only stepped down from the army at the end of November—under intense international pressure—after securing a second term as president.

The United States, which views Musharraf as a frontline ally in the fight against al-Qaeda and Taliban extremists, said earlier it would still prefer a vote on January 8 if it could be held “in a safe and secure way”.

US State Department spokesperson Tom Casey said a delay may be acceptable as long as there was broad approval, but warned Washington would have “concerns” if there was an indefinite postponement.

Bhutto, a two-time former premier who had recently returned from exile to lead her Pakistan People’s Party into the elections, was assassinated in a gun and suicide bomb attack as she left a rally last Thursday.

It sparked street clashes, arson and violence across the country as angry protesters denounced the government, although life in the major cities has largely returned to normal.

Opposition parties, including Bhutto’s, have sharply criticised Musharraf over her death and gone back and forth on whether they would accept a delay to the election.

Bhutto’s husband, Asif Ali Zardari, who was named as co-chair of the party along with his son, said on Monday the vote should go ahead as planned, telling CNN news channel that “democracy was the best vengeance” against terrorism.

“There can be elections in Afghanistan when there is an al-Qaeda movement. Why can’t there be elections in Pakistan and on time?” he said.

Opposition parties allege the commission is biased in favour of Musharraf, whose popularity has plummeted in the past year. Previous elections have been marred by bloodshed and allegations of widespread vote-rigging.

Public anger at the death of Bhutto, a pro-Western politician whose family dynasty has a huge popular following, has mounted since the Interior Ministry denied that her attacker—clearly seen in videos firing a gun at close range—had actually hit her.

It said she died banging her head on her car’s sunroof.

Bhutto’s party, which has named her 19-year-old son Bilawal to take over as its titular chairperson, has demanded a United Nations probe—something a senior government official said was out of the question.—AFP



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