Pakistan election to be held in February

The election commission held an emergency meeting onMonday to discuss the situation in the wake of the bloody violence unleashed byBhutto's slaying that has left at least 58 people dead.

Theparliament vote is seen as a final step in a transition to civilian-leddemocracy under President Pervez Musharraf, who grabbed power following amilitary coup in 1999.

Musharraf stepped down from the army at theend of November - under intense international pressure - after securing a secondterm as president.

The United States, which views Musharraf as afrontline ally in the fight against Al-Qaida and Taliban extremists, saidearlier, it would still prefer a vote on January 8 if it could be held "in asafe and secure way."

US State Department spokesman Tom Casey said adelay may be acceptable as long as there was broad approval, but warnedWashington would have "concerns" if there was an indefinite postponement.

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

It sparked street clashes, arson and violence across the country asangry protesters denounced the government, although life in the major cities haslargely returned to normal.

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

Bhutto's husbandAsif Ali Zardari, who was named as co-chair of the party along with his son,said Monday the vote should go ahead as planned. “Democracy was the bestvengeance against terrorism”, added Zardari.

"There can beelections in Afghanistan when there is an Al-Qaida movement. Why can't there beelections in Pakistan and on time?" he said.

Opposition partiesallege the commission is biased in favour of Musharraf, whose popularity hasplummeted in the past year. Previous elections have been marred by bloodshed andallegations of widespread vote-rigging.

Public anger at the death ofBhutto, a pro-Western politician whose family dynasty has a huge popularfollowing, has mounted since the interior ministry denied that her attacker -clearly seen in videos firing a gun at close range - had actually hit her.

Earlier, government said that she died banging her head on her car'ssunroof. Bhutto's party, which has named her 19-year-old son Bilawal to takeover as its titular chairman, has demanded a UN probe - something a seniorgovernment official said was out of the question.



Publish Date: 

Tuesday, 1 January 2008