Pakistan postpones elections eyed by leaders of coalition parties

A spokesman for President Pervez Musharraf rejected a claim that he was behind the delay.

Pakistan postpones elections eyed by leaders of coalition parties
Pakistan's election commission postponed polls due in June for two months Monday, drawing protests from the country's governing parties, whose leaders were eyeing runs for parliament.

The commission said it was responding to a cluttered legislative calendar and security concerns. A spokesman for President Pervez Musharraf rejected a claim that he was behind the delay.

Anti-Musharraf parties swept the general elections in February, and the coalition government has begun a drive to reduce the former military strongman to little more than a figurehead.

But voting in some areas was voided or delayed because of problems including irregularities, security threats and the deaths of candidates, including ex-Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. The commission previously rescheduled balloting in those areas for June 18 to fill vacant federal and provincial assembly seats.

Asif Ali Zardari, who is Bhutto's widower and political successor, has said he may stand for the seat in southern Sindh province that Bhutto had hoped to contest. Aides of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Zardari's main partner in the coalition, have said he too was interested in running for a National Assembly seat.

However, the election commission has decided to delay the elections until Aug. 18, secretary Kanwar Dilshad said Monday. He cited worries about security, especially in Pakistan's northwest, and the fact that lawmakers were preparing to debate the next year's budget.

Zardari condemned the delay as unconstitutional and demanded to know the "real reasons" behind it.

Zardari was to meet Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani later Monday to discuss his "serious reservations," a party statement said.

"Even if the law and order situation was bad in any particular locality, it provided no justification to postpone by-elections throughout the country," he said.

Sadiqul Farooq, a leader of Sharif's party, said the explanation was "strange and unbelievable" because security had improved since February's polls. Militants and security forces have been observing an unofficial cease-fire while the government tries to negotiate peace deals along the Afghan frontier.

Farooq also said Sharif was no longer interested in running for a seat. He provided no explanation. However, he accused Musharraf of trying to sabotage plans for Sharif's brother, Shahbaz, to contest a seat in the Punjab provincial assembly.

While technically an independent body, the election commission is staffed by presidential nominees. European Union observers recently criticized it for a lack of transparency.

Agencies
Last Mod: 06 Mayıs 2008, 08:22
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