No US observers for Pakistan Feb 18 polls

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Lahore, Feb,1: A US observer group that was planning to monitor the February 18 elections in Pakistan has opted out over election-day security concerns.

According to the Washington Post,Thomas E Garrett, the International Republican Institute"s (IRI) election expert on Pakistan was quoted as saying: “We don"t believe the security environment is such that we could do the things we"d like to do." The IRI further warned that the potential for suicide bombings and general acts of violence made it impossible to monitor the vote or evaluate the outcome with credibility.

The newspaper report, according to the Daily Times, said international presence in the February elections was now limited to 100 observers from the European Union, a few foreign politicians, and “small teams pulled together from embassies in Islamabad".

“There may be only slightly more than one observer per million voters," it said. The report said the Bush administration had acknowledged that “the voting procedures are flawed".

The report said US and Pakistani experts were concerned that the election could be manipulated when votes were aggregated at the district level where there are no standard rules or provisions for observers.

The report said the US administration had in recent days appealed to Pakistan"s election commission to publish the results of each local polling station.
Interference by local and intelligence officials was the biggest pre-election problem.

“There have been violations of election rules throughout the process," said Muddassir Rizvi, national coordinator of the Free and Fair Election Network in Pakistan.

That the gravity of the situation prevailing ahead of the polls is so stark has been brought out by the Pakistan People"s Party (PPP), which has called for the army to guard polling stations during upcoming elections.

“The law and order situation in the whole of Pakistan is very grave, precarious and ominous," PPP"s Senator Latif Khosa wrote in a letter to the Election Commission.

“The Election Commission of Pakistan must use all methods including calling the army of Pakistan to ensure peace and to avoid trouble" at polling stations, he added.


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