Pakistan to Delay Elections at Least Four Weeks

Pakistan will delay parliamentary elections by at least four weeks after a wave of violence triggered by the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, senior government officials told AFP.

Benazir Bhutto
Lefteris Pitarakis
Benazir Bhutto

The election commission said it would make its announcement on Tuesday after assessing the security situation in the country, which has seen previous elections marred by bloodshed and allegations of widespread vote-rigging.

The January 8 vote was intended to be the final step in completing the transition to civilian-led democracy under President Pervez Musharraf, a close ally of the United States, which is pushing for "free and fair" elections.

Opposition parties including that of Bhutto, who was killed at a campaign rally on Thursday, have sharply criticised Musharraf over her death and gone back and forth on whether they would accept a postponement.

"We will make an announcement on Tuesday morning," election commission spokesman Kanwar Dilshad told AFP. He declined to give the length of the delay, which was confirmed by three senior officials.

A cabinet official said it would be at least a month, after election offices were ransacked and voter lists burnt in the wave of unrest that shook Pakistan following Bhutto's killing.

Separately, a government official told AFP: "It is out of the question that the elections will be held on January 8 because of the widespread unrest that has directly affected election staff and vote preparations."

An official on the election commission, which held an emergency meeting on Monday in the capital Islamabad, said: "No doubt, the elections are going to be delayed." The commission has responsibility for supervising the elections. But opposition parties have alleged it is biased in favour of Musharraf, whose popularity has plummeted in the past year.

The opposition boycotted the vote in October when Musharraf was controversially re-elected as president, and a parliament opposed to him could stage a no-confidence vote or otherwise undermine his legitimacy.