Pakistan’s opposition parties demanded better security on Thursday as the nation prepared for a lengthy campaign ahead of February 18 elections, a week after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.
The country’s main political parties confirmed they would resume the race to restore democracy but said the government must ensure candidates are protected from the dangers posed by anyone determined to disrupt the polls.
”We would like the government to provide foolproof security to Sharif, including a bulletproof vehicle,” said Ahsan Iqbal, a spokesperson for Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), the party of two-time former prime minister Nawaz Sharif.
”We will continue our election campaign but we are revising the party chief’s programme of public engagements in view of the current security situation.”
President Pervez Musharraf approved of the postponement of planned January 8 elections until February 18 in his first major speech to the nation since Bhutto’s murder a week ago plunged the nation into turmoil.
He also said on Wednesday that Scotland Yard detectives from London had been invited to investigate how the two-time former prime minister died, amid widespread disbelief at the official version of her death.
The PML-N spokesperson said the party was not deterred by the vote delay and was determined to wage a lengthy nationwide campaign despite security concerns.
”Although the elections are now more than a month away, the delay will not cause any harm to the campaign of our party, which is determined to restore genuine democracy in Pakistan,” Iqbal said.
Pakistan’s government had provided Bhutto with a bulletproof vehicle and police security but many of her supporters blame Musharraf for failing to stop the gun and suicide-bomb attack that killed her last Thursday in Rawalpindi.
Her October 18 homecoming from self-imposed exile saw nearly 140 people killed in a suicide bombing on her convoy in Karachi.
Sherry Rehman, spokesperson for Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), said Bhutto’s widower and the party’s de facto new leader, Asif Ali Zardari, would lead the campaign after its mourning period ended early next month.
”The party’s co-chairperson, Asif Zardari, will address some major public meetings after February 7 all over the country,” she said.
Farooq Naik, Bhutto’s lawyer and top aide, said ”the party will certainly demand foolproof security from the government” during the election campaign.
”We want the government to provide security to Asif Ali Zardari, Nawaz Sharif and other political leaders to the same level as President Musharraf,” Naik added.
The vote postponement has been criticised as a ploy by Musharraf loyalists in the government to rob the PPP of any sympathy vote it may have won in the aftermath of Bhutto’s slaying.
The PPP, the country’s largest party, has alleged the delay is an attempt to give Musharraf’s allies time to fix the result.
Musharraf, a pivotal United States ally in the ”war on terror”, used Wednesday’s address to the nation to appeal for national unity, which he said was essential in fighting terrorism.
He received backing from China, a key ally, on Thursday.
”China respects Pakistan’s position,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Jiang Yu said when asked to respond to the new election date.
But far from convincing a sceptical public that the security situation needed stabilising after riots that left nearly 60 people dead, the government’s delay has reinforced perceptions that the vote could end up a farce, analysts say.
”The elections will not be viewed as credible,” Najam Sethi, the editor of Pakistan’s Daily Times newspaper, said.
”[The postponement] was based on the recommendation of bureaucrats who owe their allegiance to the former government,” he said. — AFP