Elections in Pakistan delayed until February 18

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Officials in Pakistan say parliamentary elections will be delayed until next month. VOA correspondent Nancy-Amelia Collins in Islamabad reports the Pakistan Election Commission says the delay is due to the destruction of election offices and materials in violence that broke out last week after Benazir Bhutto's assassination.

Chief election commissioner Qazi Mohammed Farooq says the elections originally scheduled for January 8 are being postponed and will be held next month.

"The polling will now be held on 18th February, 2008 instead of 8th January 2008," he said.

Election officials say they have to delay the vote because violence triggered by the assassination last week of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto destroyed a number of election commission offices and voter rolls in Sindh Province.

The opposition says the government of President Pervez Musharraf wants the election delayed to boost the votes for his supporters. The opposition has vowed to mobilize street demonstrations to protest the delay.

Political analyst Talat Masood says the government is worried the majority of votes would go to Ms. Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party, the PPP, if elections were held as originally scheduled.

"Probably they do not want to allow the PPP to catch the sympathy vote, and at the same time I think, you know, there is also an extreme resentment against the government at the moment. And president Musharraf would be in a very difficult position after the elections, because what he was wanting was a very favorable election result, so that may not be possible if the elections are held now," said Masood.

Ms. Bhutto was assassinated last Thursday while campaigning. Her supporters blame the government for failing to take adequate security measures for her safety, and Ms. Bhutto, before her death, had accused elements within the government of plotting to kill her, a charge the government denies.

A top aide to Ms. Bhutto, Senator Latif Khosa, says that on the day of her assassination, Ms. Bhutto planned to give two visiting U.S. lawmakers a thick dossier outlining numerous instances of government pre-poll rigging involving voter registration as well as intimidation of PPP supporters.

"Everything was recorded in that, with all proofs that we have had, and with the independent reports of the foreign monitors who were also operating. Their reports also supported our allegations as to being substantial and as being true. So they were all recorded, but unfortunately she could not present the report because she was assassinated before she could do that," said Khosa.

The government denies the allegations of vote rigging.

The government also now says it is "open" to foreign help in investigating the assassination of Ms. Bhutto. The government of Pakistan announce that investigators from the UK will assist into the investigation into the death.

The United States government announced that it was pleased that a date had now been set for the elections.