WaPo : Musharraf's Allies Want Vote Delayed

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Musharraf's Allies Want Vote Delayed

Elections Could Be Moved to February

By Griff Witte | Washington Post Foreign Service | January 1, 2008

KARACHI, Pakistan, Dec. 31 -- Long-awaited elections scheduled for next week are almost certain to be postponed Tuesday, a choice that rankles opposition leaders in Pakistan who want the vote held on time.

Government officials and politicians aligned with President Pervez Musharraf say the parliamentary elections need to be delayed by at least several weeks, and perhaps into February.

The delay is necessary, they say, to give the country time to recover after three days of rioting triggered by the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto.

"It should not be a long delay, but a delay that gives people the chance to calm down," said Tariq Azim Khan, spokesman for the main pro-Musharraf party.

Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party (PPP) and the party of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif have opposed a delay, arguing that Musharraf and his allies are trying to stave off a landslide defeat.

Sharif said Monday he would call on his supporters to protest in the streets if the vote is postponed. He also demanded that Musharraf resign immediately. "Pervez Musharraf and Pakistan cannot go together," he said at a news conference.

Farhatullah Babar, spokesman for the PPP, said, "We will not accept a postponement."

Political analysts have predicted that a vote on Jan. 8 would yield a robust turnout for the PPP as the party rides a wave of sympathy following Bhutto's killing last Thursday.

Sharif's party was also projected to fare well, since it has taken a hard line against the deeply unpopular Musharraf. Both opposition groups have expressed concern that allies of Musharraf would try to rig the polls.

Zafarullah Khan, a lawyer and election monitor with Sharif's party, said in a letter to the election commission last week that Musharraf was planning a "display of power" and cited intelligence that "the firing of arms would be carried out on selected polling stations just to keep away opposing voters."

Musharraf has pledged that the elections will be free and fair.

U.S. officials said Monday they want the elections to proceed on schedule, but they also indicated willingness to accept a short delay.

"The key here is that there be a date certain for elections in Pakistan," said State Department spokesman Tom Casey. "We would certainly have concerns about some sort of indefinite postponement of the elections."

Correspondent Emily Wax in Islamabad contributed to this report.