Monday, December 31, 2007

Pakistan to delay elections

The government is no doubt surprised by the fact that Bhutto's party is going to contest the elections. This forced Sharif's party to reverse its decision to boycott the elections. Musharraf no doubt will delay the elections for some time to try and cool the anger against him and also to make arrangements to rig the results if he can make appropriate deals or even if he can't!
The move to make the son the symbolic head of the party was clever in that Bhutto's husband's reputation for corruption is legendary. The son cannot run for office until 25!
I am a bit mystified by all the fuss over exactly how Bhutto died. What possible value the government could gain from saying she died from hitting her head as against a bullet wound is not clear to me. Certainly the government has not denied that she was shot at and that there was a suicide blast. What on earth difference does it make if these events in themselves were not the immediate cause of her death. If they had not happened she would not have banged her head cracking open her skull.

Pakistan to delay elections

Monday, December 31, 2007
ISLAMABAD: Elections in Pakistan appear likely to be delayed by several weeks, despite demands by the party of the slain opposition leader Benazir Bhutto and other politicians that they take place as scheduled on Jan. 8, officials said Monday.

The Election Commission said that it had recommended an unspecified delay in the parliamentary polls following the unrest that was triggered by the assassination of Bhutto last week. It said its final decision would be made Tuesday.

Separately, a senior government official predicted that the elections would be postponed by "six weeks or so, as the environment to hold free and fair elections is not conducive." The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to disclose the information.

Despite being in mourning, Bhutto's political party and that of Pakistan's other major opposition leader, Nawaz Sharif, want the polls held on time, perhaps sensing that major electoral gains are possible amid sympathy over Bhutto's death and a widespread belief that political allies of President Pervez Musharraf were behind the killing. Sharif's party reversed an earlier decision to boycott the election.

On Sunday, Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party named her 19-year-old son, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, as its symbolic leader and left day-to-day control to her husband, Asif Ali Zardari. The announcement was made at a chaotic news conference at the family's ancestral home in Naudero, in southern Pakistan.

The decision to place the burden of blood and history on Bhutto's first-born son, an Oxford undergraduate with no political experience, reflects not only an abiding dynastic streak in South Asian politics - three generations of the Nehru-Gandhi family have dominated politics in India, and hereditary politics pervade Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, as well - but also how much the Pakistan People's Party relies on the Bhutto family name and legacy to bind its supporters.

In keeping with his new mantle, the new chairman added his mother's maiden name to his, becoming the newly anointed Bhutto scion. "My mother always said democracy is the best revenge," he said in a brief address.

The elder Zardari said he would manage the chairmanship on his son's behalf until he finishes his university degree - a minimum of three years. The father instructed reporters not to ask his son any further questions, saying he was "of a tender age."

Later, in the backyard of the family's house, Bhutto Zardari said in an interview that he had been tutored by his mother to play a role in Pakistani politics. "There was always a sense of fear I wouldn't be able to live up to her expectations," he said. "I hope I will."

Asked about his most immediate challenge, he said, "First, to finish my degree."

That would appear to rule out any possibility that Bhutto Zardari could become the new leader of Pakistan before he is significantly older. Nonetheless, the elder Zardari said in an interview, "As her son, he will become a uniting force."

Senior party officials said Bhutto Zardari would be a far less controversial titular head than his father, who had been accused of a raft of corruption charges, jailed for a total of 11 years and blamed in some quarters for some of Bhutto's political woes.

It could not be a more difficult time for the party. Bhutto had held together a large and diverse organization, and even if, on the back of public grief, it were to win the coming elections, it would be likely to be under great pressure to bring a semblance of stability to a nation racked by a wave of extremist violence.

At the news conference, the elder Zardari said he would not run in the election and therefore would not be the party's prime ministerial candidate. That job, he said, would probably go to the party vice president, the veteran party leader Makhdoom Amin Fahim, but that was a decision, he added, that would have to be made by party leaders.

Bhutto was killed in a suicide bomb and gun attack Thursday, but disagreements between her supporters and the government over the precise cause of death are undermining confidence in Musharraf and adding to calls for an international investigation.

New video footage, obtained by Britain's Channel 4, shows a man firing a handgun at Bhutto from close range as she stands in an open-topped vehicle. Her hair and shawl then move upward, suggesting she may have been shot. She then falls into the vehicle just before an explosion rocks the car.

The government has insisted that Bhutto was not hit by any of the bullets, and that she died after the force of the blast slammed her head against the sunroof. Bhutto's family and supporters say she died from gunshot wounds to her head and neck.

Zardari confirmed Sunday that he had refused a request to perform an autopsy, saying he did not trust the government of Musharraf to carry out a credible investigation. This means that short of exhuming her body - something her supporters have already ruled out - the cause of her death will be difficult to establish.

Zardari urged the United Nations to establish a committee like the one investigating the 2005 assassination of the former prime minister of Lebanon, Rafik Hariri. Several leading U.S. politicians have made similar calls.

Musharraf agreed to consider international support for the investigation when he spoke by phone Sunday with Gordon Brown, the British prime minister's office said. But Rashid Qureshi, a spokesman for the Pakistani president, said Monday that Musharraf had made no such promises.

Copyright © 2007 The International Herald Tribune |

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