Polls to be free and fair: Pak election commission

Polls to be free and fair: Pak election commission

Islamabad: Pakistan’s election commission has rejected allegations from the opposition parties that the upcoming polls will be struck by rigging.

Former prime minister Benazir Bhutto has said that her party is contesting the January 8 polls under protest despite fears that they will be massively rigged by the government.

She has objected about the setting up of ghost or improvised polling stations, bulk transfers of officials and a plan to steal thousands of ballot papers ahead of the election for the pro-government candidates.

Another former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, who returned from exile from Saudi Arabia on 25 November, has been urging other opposition parties to boycott the elections arguing that the vote will not be fair and transparent.

Both Bhutto and Nawaz met in Islamabad earlier this week and had decided to compile a list of demands the government must meet to stop them from boycotting the poll.

However, the election commission of Pakistan has said that the opposition’s fears are unfounded. “The Election Commission is a constitutional body and it is fully independent to hold free, fair and transparent polls," said Kanwar Dilshad, the commission’s secretary.

“The entire election exercise is absolutely free, fair and transparent. More than 95% of polling stations will be in schools or government buildings, but in some areas where there is no proper building, polling stations are established in tents or some other premises," Dilshad said.

He said such a move was not new and that improvised polling stations would be set up in consultation with the contesting candidates. He further said that the ballot papers would be handed over to officials by 5 January and there is no question of somebody getting hold of them.

The committee set up by Bhutto and Nawaz to draft the charter of demands is already on work. “Yesterday we had a preliminary round in which we agreed that the entire electoral process was based on rigging and fraud," said Ahsan Iqbal, Sharif’s spokesman.

“The current system was not leading us towards free and transparent elections," said he, adding that if elections became controversial then the political crisis will be much deeper and create more instability.

Under massive international pressure following his declaration of emergency rule, Musharraf has delivered significant concessions to the opposition in recent weeks.

He quit as army chief last week and was sworn in for a second term as a civilian president, ending eight years of military rule after he seized power in a bloodless coup in 1999.