Pakistan poll set to be delayed

Election commission says holding the vote on January 8 would be "impossible".

    Government buildings were set on fire in the unrest that followed Benazir Bhutto's death [AFP]
    A new date is expected to be announced after the commission has met representatives of the political parties on Wednesday.

    However, the assassinated former prime minister's Pakistan People's Party (PPP) and the party led by Nawaz Sharif have demanded that the election go ahead as planned.
    The commission has said many of its offices in Sindh, Bhutto's home province, were burnt in rioting after her murder, and election material including voter rolls, polling cards and ballot boxes were reduced to ashes.
    Offices burnt
    "We will inform the political parties about the situation in Sindh where our 13 offices were burnt. We will inform them about the ground realities and then we will fix a date in consultation with them," Dilshad said.
    The panel held an urgent meeting on Tuesday to review reports from around the country dealing with whether the election could be held.

    Earlier, the AFP news agency quoted an election official as saying that the polls would be delayed until February to give officials more time to prepare after the unrest that followed Benazir Bhutto's assassination on Thursday.
    But with the government facing calls from the US not to put off the vote too long and opposition parties arguing against a delay, the official said the election commission could not hold off longer than that.

    Nawaz Sharif and Asif Ali Zardari, Bhutto's husband who is now co-chairman of her party along with their 19-year old son, Bilawal, issued a joint statement on Tuesday calling for the elections to be held on January 8 as planned.
    "It is up to the people of Pakistan to choose their future, and the time is now," it said.
    "The January 8th elections must proceed as scheduled. This will not only be a tribute to the memory of Benazir Bhutto, but even more important, a reaffirmation of the cause of democracy for which she died."

    Sharif's party had previously said that a "short postponement" would be acceptable.

    Rigging allegations
    On Tuesday, a PPP official said Bhutto was killed just hours before she was to go public with "proof" that Pakistani intelligence and electoral officials were planning to rig the vote.
    "Bhutto was scheduled to reveal a document containing proof of rigging plans by the election commission and Inter-Services Intelligence the night she was assassinated," Latif Khosa, a senator, said.

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    Khosa, who along with Bhutto authored the 160-page dossier documenting alleged rigging tactics, said they ranged from intimidation to fake ballots, and were in some cases unwittingly funded by US aid.

    "The state agencies are manipulating the whole process," he said.

    However, a spokesman for Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's president, dismissed the claim as "ridiculous".
    "It makes one laugh," Rashid Qureshi said.
    "The president has said a free, fair, transparent and peaceful election is essential, which forms part of his overall strategy for transforming Pakistan into a fully democratic [nation]."
    "Take it from me, it's going to be perhaps the best election that Pakistan has ever had."

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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