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Pakistan’s questionable election

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Pakistan’s questionable election
Editorial | 11.02.2008 | The Boston Globe
[here]

PAKISTAN IS preparing for parliamentary elections Feb. 18, and the auguries for a fair vote could hardly be worse. Given Pakistan’s nuclear capability and its role (willing or not) as sanctuary for Al Qaeda and the Taliban, the United States and many other countries share an interest in pressing President Pervez Musharraf for concrete protections against election fraud and voter intimidation.

Recent suicide attacks and assassinations have provoked fears about public safety, eliminating the mass rallies that are a staple of political campaigns in Pakistan. Although Musharraf has lifted a ban on most private TV channels, his subsequent imposition of a restrictive code of conduct has stifled criticism of his government and outlawed nearly all live coverage of events.

Perhaps most discouraging is the pervasive expectation that Musharraf’s allies will rig the election results, particularly in rural areas controlled by his loyalists. This anticipation of government cheating has led to warnings from the major opposition parties that their followers are prepared to take to the streets to protest any falsification of the vote tallies.

Were this to happen, Pakistan would be saddled with the worst possible outcome from its parliamentary election. The balloting would not produce the democratic legitimacy the country needs, and instead of resolving conflicts by peaceful means, the voting could usher in a violent contest for power.

Although there are limits to the influence outsiders can have on Musharraf, the United States and its European allies ought to be pushing for practical measures that might improve the chances both for an honest process and for post-election stability. The most useful, and perhaps the most feasible, action would be to insist on widespread, credible monitoring of the voting and the counting of votes.

At present, the insecurity induced by jihadist bombings and murders is intimidating voters and activists. It has caused a US observer mission to change its plans and withdraw. At the same time, the Pakistani Army has denied requests from political parties to dispatch their own observers to polling places on election day.

Musharraf, a retired army chief, commonly boasts that his military colleagues can be counted on to guarantee order and stability in Pakistan. President Bush ought to remind Musharraf of that boast and tell him this is the time to show that the Pakistani Army can protect voters and election monitors throughout the country.

A team of monitors from the European Union is in Pakistan now, and independent Pakistani civic groups are hoping to station observers at polls in all the country’s 272 voting districts. If the army protects monitors and the monitors verify an honest election, the struggle for power in Pakistan can be decided in the voting booth, not in the streets.

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Written by SAC-USA

11 February 2008 at 7:52 am

Posted in SAC

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