Pakistan's Ongoing Crisis Election Delay Likely Following Bhutto Assassination

Pakistan's Election Commission is expected to postpone parliamentary elections following the assassination of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto. However, Bhutto's party -- now led by her widower and son -- is calling for the vote to go ahead as planned.


A certain level of calm may have returned to Pakistan after the turmoil that followed the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, but the country is far from stable. In the aftermath of Thursday's killing of the charismatic opposition leader and former prime minister, crucial elections look set to be delayed by several weeks.

Although Pakistan's election officials are to make a final decision on Tuesday about whether to go ahead with parliamentary elections on Jan. 8, they have already recommended that the vote be delayed. Opposition parties have said that they are ready to contest the elections but Pakistan's Election Commission said Saturday that many of its offices, particularly in the Sindh province, a Bhutto stronghold, had been burned and voting material destroyed in the violence that erupted after her killing at an election rally on Thursday.

The Election Commission is officially waiting to hear from provincial governments and election commissioners about the feasibility of holding the elections next week and will announce its final decision on Tuesday. A senior government official told Associated Press the elections would probably be postponed "by six weeks or so as the environment to hold free and fair elections is not conducive," while a member of a political party backing President Pervez Musharraf told Reuters that: "It seems more than likely that elections will be delayed."

Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party (PPP) is eager to hold the elections quickly, hoping to garner a significant sympathy vote in the wake of her assassination. The party gathered at her ancestral home in Naudero on Sunday to appoint her 19-year-old son Bilawal to fill her shoes, continuing the Bhutto political dynasty. He will now co-chair the party, founded by his grandfather in 1967, with his father Asif Ali Zardari, a controversial figure in Pakistan. A former minister in his wife's governments, Zardari was known as "Mr. 10 percent," for his reputation for demanding kickbacks. He served eight years in jail on corruption charges and his activities twice contributed to Bhutto's dismissal as prime minister.

Benazir Bhuttos's son Bilawal has spent most of his life abroad, mainly in the United Arab Emirates, and is currently studying at Oxford University in the United Kingdom. At the emotional party meeting on Sunday Bilawal, who closely resembles his mother, said that she always said "democracy is the best revenge."

However, it is Zardari who will be the effective leader of the party while his son completes his education, but he said he would not run as the party's candidate for prime minister, handing those duties to Makhdoom Amin Fahim, another party bigwig. The PPP also successfully appealed to the party of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, the Pakistan Muslim League, to abandon its boycott of the parliamentary elections.

Meanwhile, the PPP has slammed the government's accounts of how Bhutto died. While the government insists that Bhutto died by hitting her head off the sunroof of her car after a bomb exploded, the party insists she was hit and killed by gunfire. A video shown on Pakistani TV over the weekend seems to back up their claim, showing a gunman aiming and firing at Bhutto, after which her hair and shawl jumped up. However, as her husband refused to allow an autopsy, the true cause of her death may never be determined.

Many believe the government's story is an attempt at deflecting attention from the lax security at last Thursday's rally, which may have made the attack on Bhutto possible.

smd/reuters/ap

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