Signs point to Pakistan poll delay

Benazir Bhutto's party demands that elections go ahead despite the assassination.

    The election commission secretary says
    unrest might delay the poll [AFP]

    Kanwar Dilshad, the election commission secretary, said on Monday that provincial governments and commissioners had been told to report on the situation in their areas by the evening.
    Shah Mahmood Qureshi, a senior party official, told AFP news agency: "We are ready for elections and do not want any delay. We demand immediate elections - and on January 8.

    "The government should stick to the schedule. If the government delays the election, we will call a central executive committee meeting to decide our future course of action."

    'Ready' for elections

    Tariq Azim, a spokesman for the pro-Musharraf Pakistan Muslim League-Q party, said: "We are also ready for the contest on January 8."

    Earlier, he had predicted that the election could be delayed up to four months.

    However, the party of Nawaz Sharif, another former prime minister and vocal critic of the government of Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's president, has said that a "short postponement" would be acceptable.

    Bhutto's killing in a suicide attack on Thursday has provoked an angry response across the country with rioters burning shops, banks and cars over the weekend.

    At least 47 people have been killed in the violence.

    On Monday, sporadic unrest flared again with protesters firing into the air in the southern city of Hyderabad and throwing stones at police and shops.

    Shops were closed in parts of Karachi, while hundreds of lawyers marched in the southern city of Multan chanting slogans against Musharraf including "Musharraf, you killer".

    Records burned
    The election commission said on Saturday that its offices in many districts of Sindh province in the south of Pakistan had been burned and voting material including electoral rolls destroyed.
    "All records have been burnt. All electoral rolls have been burnt. Offices of all returning officers have been burnt," Dilshad said on Monday, referring to 10 offices in Sindh.
    Security fears in two northwestern regions have also raised doubts about voting there, the commission said.

    Al Jazeera's Sohail Rahman in Islamabad said that ballot boxes, ballot papers and electoral rolls had been destroyed.

    "The chief election commissioner wants a detailed report from each of the provincial commissioners to exactly state what state their buildings are in, how much information has been lost or damaged and how long it will take for that to be re-collated," he said.

    Bilawal Zardari, Bhutto's 19-year-old son, has been chosen, along with Asif Ali Zardari, Bhutto's widower, to succeed her as co-chairmen of the PPP.

    "My mother always said that democracy is the best revenge," Bilawal said shortly after being anointed her political successor.

    Zardari said he was not running in the election and would not be a candidate for prime minister, but mentioned Makhdoom Amin Fahim, the party vice chairman, as a possible candidate.

    Shares dive

    Pakistan's stock market fell 4.7 per cent after reopening after three days of mourning, their steepest fall in 18 months. The rupee also hit a six-year low as investors worried that political instability could damage the $145bn economy.

    Pakistan's stock market suffered its biggest
    fall in 18 months on Monday [AFP]

    "There are no buyers in the market, only sellers," Shuja Rizvi, director of broking at Capital One Equities, told Reuters news agency. "Every stock on my screen is limit-down."
    A promising investment story less than a year ago, Pakistan is now gripped by fears of capital flight if security worsens.

    "It could not be worse than this. Our international trade is at a complete halt and there are no buyers coming in," Tanvir Ahmad Sheikh, the president of the Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry, said.
    "All foreign countries issued foreign travel advisories advising their people not to travel to Pakistan which is a big blow to our businesses. We are not gaining any orders from abroad."

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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