B. Muralidhar Reddy

ISLAMABAD: Amidst threats by the Opposition to boycott the 2007 general elections in the absence of an "independent" Election Commission, Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf has named a retired judge of the Supreme Court, Justice Qazi Muhammad Farooq, as the new Chief Election Commissioner (CEC).

In recent days, carrying forward the agitation in protest against offensive cartoons on Prophet Muhammed, the Opposition parties have stepped up their offensive against the Musharraf regime.

Last week, the Opposition parties announced that they would boycott the October 2007 general elections if Gen. Musharraf continued to be the Army Chief and President.

They also demanded constitution of an interim government and an independent Election Commission for free and fair polls.

The Election Commission was without a full-fledged CEC for over a year and one of the judges of the Supreme Court was acting as the CEC.

The Opposition had accused the Government of deliberately not appointing a full time CEC and complained of large-scale irregularities in the local bodies elections of 2005.

Taking into account the mood of the Opposition parties and the Pakistani civil society, the U.S. and its Western allies have said that 2007 general election would be a test case for democracy in the country.