Nirupama Subramanian

Pervez Musharraf says elections will be fair

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s two main opposition parties reiterated fears on Thursday that the January 8 elections would be rigged in favour of President Pervez Musharraf’s allies, and were joined by citizens groups and non-governmental organisations working for free and fair elections.

Speaking during electioneering in Dera Allah Yar, a remote region of Balochistan, Pakistan People’s Party leader Benazir Bhutto said she had evidence of intelligence agencies interfering in the electoral process and asked the Election Commission to stop it.

In a statement, the PPP gave details of an army officer belonging to an intelligence agency sitting through the scrutiny of nomination papers in a constituency in Tharparkar, Sindh.

The party connected the rejection of its candidate’s nominations to the presence of the officer.

Accusing intelligence agencies of “blatantly interfering” to “tilt the ground in favour of the King’s party”, a reference to the Pakistan Muslin League (Q), an ally of General (Retd) Musharraf, the party demanded an immediate probe, and the reining in of intelligence officials.

Earlier, General Musharraf, who addressed a delegation of Pakistani Americans on Wednesday, said there was no question of using the intelligence agencies to influence the results, and reiterated that elections would be free and fair.

“I feel there is no room for fraud,” the President told the gathering. “The government will never be employed, the intelligence will never be used for manipulating the election results.”

But the allegations about plans to fix the election continued. In Lahore, Pakistan Muslim League (N) leader Nawaz Sharif said elections under General Musharraf could never be free or fair.

While he had wanted to boycott the election, Mr. Sharif said he could not exercise this option as the PPP had decided to participate, and a partial boycott would not be effective.

Citizen group’s call

Meanwhile, an association called Citizens’ Group on Electoral Process (CGEP), which has kept a watch on the electoral process since December 2006, said in a statement that “on all counts the coming general election fails on pre-election fairness” and called on citizens to monitor election day to “collect specific evidence of direct rigging and manipulation in case it happens as is largely anticipated.”

The group, comprising retired military officials, former judges of the Supreme Court including those axed in 2000 for their refusal to take oath under Gen. Musharraf’s first provisional constitutional order, political scientists and analysts, accused the President of playing a “partisan” role by canvassing for the PML (Q) and described the Election Commission’s management of the election process as “weak”.

It said the caretaker governments at the centre and the provinces were partisan. Taken together with restrictions on the media and the absence of an independent judiciary, the CGEP declared in a statement that “the pre-election stage does not provide a level-playing field to all contestants.”

A U.S. non-profit group called National Democratic Institute (NDI), which has been active in Pakistan, said at roundtable discussions organised by it in Karachi and Lahore, opposition parties complained about the inappropriate use of state resources and the influence of local government during the election campaign.

“Opposition parties demanded the immediate suspension of local governments for the election period and asked the ECP to speed up the complaint monitoring and adjudication system to make it more transparent and effective,” NDI said in a press release.

The NDI said parties expressed frustration at the lack of appropriate information from the Election Commission about the electoral process including the voters list, the complaint process, location of polling stations and measures to be taken for the security of election materials.