- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 1, 2008

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — National elections originally slated for next Tuesday will be postponed until late February, Pakistan’s Election Commission is expected to announce today, to allow the campaign to cool after a violent reaction to Benazir Bhutto’s assassination.

Opposition parties protested the delay.

“There can be elections in Afghanistan when there is an al Qaeda movement. Why can’t there be elections in Pakistan and on time?” Mrs. Bhutto’s widower, Asif Ali Zardari, told CNN yesterday.

Management of Mrs. Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) has been assumed by Mr. Zardari, who was implicated in a massive corruption scandal that led to Mrs. Bhutto’s dismissal as prime minister in the 1990s.

The Bush administration yesterday indicated it would support a delay.

“We do believe that Pakistan should set a specific date so the process can be open and predictable,” White House spokesman Scott Stanzel told reporters. “But in terms of the precise timing of that, that’s up to the people in Pakistan.”

Elections for the Pakistani parliament and provincial seats had been scheduled for next Tuesday, despite widespread criticism that six weeks of emergency rule ending in mid-December had made credible contests impossible.

Then came Mrs. Bhutto’s death in a suicide attack Thursday, shortly after she addressed a campaign rally in Rawalpindi, a suburb of the capital, Islamabad.

Anger over the government’s failure to protect her sparked days of civil unrest, especially in Mrs. Bhutto’s home base of Karachi and the surrounding Sindh province.

Nine polling stations were set ablaze during the riots, destroying voter records in Sindh and other areas.

The Interior Ministry put the nationwide death toll at 47 and said rioters had caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damage to property and infrastructure.

The violence has compromised the European Union’s plan to monitor elections and disrupted the printing and distribution of ballots, according to regional election commissions.

Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif announced yesterday that his branch of the Pakistani Muslim League plans to participate in the elections. He also criticized the delay.

Immediately after Mrs. Bhutto’s assassination, Mr. Sharif had said his party — known by the acronym PML-N — would boycott the vote. But he has since changed his mind.

Mr. Sharif complained to reporters yesterday that his security has been “absolutely inadequate,” saying that he has traveled across the country and “seen hardly any security with me from the government side.”

The government’s explanation of Mrs. Bhutto’s death — that she died from a blow to the head while ducking inside her vehicle, rather than from bullets or shrapnel from a suicide attack — also has angered opposition parties.

The Pakistan Muslim League branch headed by Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf (PML-Q) said yesterday it would resume campaigning as a three-day nationwide period of mourning came to an end.

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