Pakistan's Bhutto mulls 'virtual' rallies
Agence France-Presse | October 22, 2007
WASHINGTON - Former Pakistan premier Benazir Bhutto said Tuesday she is considering "virtual" mass rallies and campaigning via phone to avoid mass violence after last week's deadly suicide attack on her convoy.
Bhutto wrote her suggestions in a Wall Street journal opinion piece, a day after she condemned the government's plan to ban large rallies in the run-up to January's general elections, seen as a key step to restoring democracy after eight years of military rule by President Pervez Musharraf.
"Intimidation by murdering cowards will not be allowed to derail Pakistan's transition to democracy," wrote Bhutto, whose return Thursday after eight years of self-imposed exile was rocked by two blasts that ripped through her homecoming parade, killing 139 people.
"We are now focusing on hybrid techniques that combine individual and mass voter contact with sharp security constraints," she said.
"Where people have telephones, we can experiment with taped voice messages from me describing my issue positions and urging them to vote. In rural areas we are contemplating taped messages from me played regularly on boom boxes set up in village centers.
"Instead of the traditional mass caravans of Pakistani politics, we are discussing the feasibility of 'virtual caravans' and 'virtual mass rallies' where I would deliver important campaign addresses to large audiences all over the four provinces of Pakistan."
Bhutto said Monday she thought it was "wrong" for the government to slap an outright ban on all rallies, and called for the election commission to consult with police in areas where rallies were taking place and make decisions on a case-by-case basis.
She has acknowledged she would have to "modify" her campaign after the carnage at her procession, the nation's worst suicide bombing, but said she wanted to keep alive as much of the "mass, grassroots, people-to-people politics" as possible.
Pakistan "is not California or New York, where candidates can campaign through paid media and targeted direct mail. That technology is not only logistically impossible, but it is inconsistent with our political culture," she wrote.
"The people of Pakistan ... expect mass rallies and caravans, and to hear directly from their leaders through bullhorns and loud speakers. Under normal conditions it is challenging. Under the terrorist threat, it is extraordinarily difficult. My task is to make sure that it is not impossible."
Bhutto called the attack "particularly sinister" and admitted that she was aware that she could have been targeted.
"The attack on me was not totally unexpected. I had received credible information that I was being targeted by elements that wanted to disrupt the democratic process," she said.
"Obviously I knew the risks," she said, adding that the deaths "weigh heavily on my heart."