All eyes are set on Pakistan as it goes in for polls on Monday, February 18, 2008 to elect the lower house of the Parliament. These elections are very crucial for the future of federal Pakistan, after a year that was overshadowed by massive violence across the country. Besides the assassination of former Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto, and the imposition of emergency, more than 400 people have been killed in clashes between troops and militants in bombing and suicide attacks. Perhaps this is the reason for lack of public enthusiasm for the elections. No large public rallies have also been held, post Bhutto’s assassination.
A few days back, a recording was released by a US based human rights group. According to purported audio recording of the Attorney General of Pakistan, General Malik Qayyum, the polls will be “massively rigged”.
The recording was of November 21, 2007. Some observers also fear that rigged elections could further escalate ethnic strife and undermine the unity of the already fractured nation. President Musharraf has pledged that the “mother of elections” will be free and fair. The parties, though, are still not convinced and have urged their supporters to besiege the polling stations to prevent rigging. The stakes of United States are also running high. The US is also not taking any chances and has sent a few observers to monitor the polls because if the outcome of the elections is rejected by the masses, it could spark further chaos in Pakistan. The US is also under criticism both in Pakistan and at home for backing Musharraf’s political crack down in 2007. On the other hand, Musharraf’s popularity has plunged at an all time low and if his ruling coalition fares badly, then he could face the impeachment by newly elected Parliament.
More than 80 million registered voters will decide the fate of Pakistan. The lower house of Pakistan consists of 272 seats. There are many parties in running, but the major competition is between the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid-e-Azam (PML-Q). Pre-poll surveys suggest that PPP, which has been riding on a sympathy wave following Bhutto’s death, could sweep the polls in Sindh and may rise as the single largest party. It is being closely challenged by the PML-N, which has support of nearly 24% of the electorate. The pro-Musharraf PML-Q, which has 146 seats in the outgoing Parliament, will fare very poorly in polls. However, these surveys cannot be trusted completely as there are suspicions regarding the polls as the chances of using unfair means are high on cards. Some analysts also fear that violence during and after the polling day is inevitable.
This election will prove to be the toughest battle, not only for President Parvez Musharraf, who has been losing ground among his people, but for the Americans as well, who have been supporting the former army chief in all his deeds.
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