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January 2, 2008
Parliamentary Vote in Pakistan Delayed One Month
Despite calls for the January 8 vote to go forward as scheduled by both major opposition parties, the Pakistani electoral commission has postponed parliamentary elections until next month:
USA TODAY's Paul Wiseman reports that the Pakistani election commission, citing uncivil unrest following the assassination of political leader Benazir Bhutto last month, just announced that it will delay upcoming parliamentary elections by nearly six weeks. Sharif has also called for Musharraf to resign and a "Government of National Unity" be installed before the elections in order to insure fairness of the vote. This is not likely as Musharraf will seek to maintain strict control over the vote. This may cause the opposition parties to boycott the election which would lead to a victory by Musharraf's coalition of nationalist and religious parties.
Balloting will be rescheduled from Jan. 8 to Feb. 18.
Wiseman says the decision has been anticipated all week. But Bhutto's Pakistan Peoples Party has rejected any postponement of the original date of Jan. 8, raising the possibility that Bhutto supporters will take their protests into the streets. The Peoples Party's governing board was meeting today to decide how to respond. The other leading opposition party -- the Pakistan Muslim League of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif -- had also opposed any delay.
The Pakistani People's Party is deciding today whether to stage protests against the delay. Given the tense mood in the major cities, such a demonstration could easily spin out of control and become a bloodbath.
And waiting in the wings is the military who have been on the sidelines so far but may assert itself if the chaos in the streets begins to break down social order.