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Pakistan general elections postponed to February 18
January 02, 2008 18:08 IST
Last Updated: January 02, 2008 19:35 IST
Parliamentary polls in Pakistan slated for January 8 were on Wednesday deferred until February 18 by the Election Commission, rejecting the demand of main opposition parties including that of slain ex-prime minister Benazir Bhutto not to postpone the exercise.
"In the light of the circumstances (following the assassination of Bhutto), the new date for general elections is February 18, 2008 instead of January 8," chief election commissioner Qazi Mohammad Farooq said.
"I assure all political parties that the elections will be fair, free and transparent. I appeal to them to accept this decision in the supreme national interest and participate fully," he added.
"The elections cannot be held now because of the law and order situation in the wake of the assassination of Bhutto on December 27 and the 'Moharram' period starting next week," he said.
Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party was not in favour of delaying the polls. Pakistan Muslim league-N of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif also wanted the elections to go ahead as scheduled.
However, the Pakistan Muslim League-Q, which backs president Pervez Musharraf [Images], had been demanding the postponement of the general elections.
The election commission announcement came hours before Musharraf's address to the nation on radio and television during which he is expected to focus on the situation in the country following Bhutto's killing.
After chairing a series of meetings since Monday to assess the situation across the country, Farooq said that another reason for postponement of elections was the disruption of poll preparations following the killing of Bhutto.
Asked if the army would be deployed for ensuring security during the polls, Farooq said no decision had been taken as yet in this regard.
"When the time comes, we will consult the provincial governments and take the law and order situation into consideration before making a decision (about deploying the army)," he said.
The election commission had earlier asked the electoral offices in the four provinces of Balochsitan, Sindh, Punjab and North West Frontier Province to submit reports on the law and order situation and poll preparations in their respective regions.
Farooq said it would 'not be possible' to hold elections as scheduled on January 8 because of the widespread disruption of pre-poll arrangements across the country by the protests against the assassination of Bhutto.
"The violence which followed the assassination of Benazir Bhutto [Images] led to the destruction of 11 district election offices, complete with electoral rolls and ballot boxes, in Sindh," he said, adding, "The protests stopped the printing of ballot papers for four days as well as the training of poll workers and other pre-election logistics."
Farooq also pointed out that the beginning of the Islamic month of Moharram on January 10 had influenced the decision to postpone the polls. Officials had earlier said it would be difficult to deploy security forces for poll duties during Moharram, a period that has been in the past marked by tensions between Shias and Sunnis.
The commission decided on poll postponement after getting reports from election officials and governments in four provinces and holding consultations with political parties.
Asked if any party had opposed postponement of polls, Farooq evaded a direct answer and said the consultations with political parties had been informal in nature. The commission had presented the 'ground realities' to the parties, he said.
The government of the southern Sindh province, Farooq said, had asked for the polls to be put off as the law and order situation there was not conducive to hold the elections. "Communication has been disrupted, and officers can't discharge their duties or report for work in Sindh," he said.
The central Punjab province too said the situation was not conducive for holding polls while Balochistan said it was facing problems in deploying poll officials. Some returning officers from different parts of the country too had sought a postponement in their respective areas, Farooq said.