Washington-based IRI to pull out of election monitoring in Pak

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Islamabad, Feb 1 (UNI) The only US observer group planning to monitor the February 18 elections in Pakistan has cancelled its involvement citing election-day security concerns, local media said today.

Daily Times quoted a Washington Post report as suggesting that the group did not believe the security environment was such that it could do the things it would like to do.

Thomas E Garrett, the International Republican Institute's election expert on Pakistan, said in a report 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 report 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''.

Meanwhile, Pakistan Peoples Party has taken a dim view of the restrictions placed on the International Republican Institute's operations in Pakistan by the regime.

Condemning the non-renewal of visas for senior IRI officials as ''a step aimed at shutting down international organisations that seeks to assist in building democratic institutions'', PPP's Central Information Secretary Sherry Rehman said the party would strongly resist such a move to dismantle the free movement and activities of the IRI in Pakistan.

The IRI had been conducting independent polls on a variety of issues that were fundamental to channelling public opinion in a transparent manner.

''Their last few surveys have obviously shown the regime as isolated and unpopular, which is why the IRI is being asked to shut down its operations in Pakistan,'' Mr Rehman said.

Their registration is under threat of revokation by the Pakistan government, which is an unprecedented step for an organisation of international repute to face.

She said visa status of top IRI officials has been subject to arbitrary and restrictive renewals almost on a monthly basis.

''We are very clear that the regime is trying to confuse the issue by saying that the IRI itself wants to leave. This is absolute nonsense, as their officials have documented evidence asking for permission to stay in Pakistan.'' They may not be able to moniter the elections now that their security is compromised, but certainly need and want to continue with their capacity-building work for political parties and issue-based polling for assisting democratic forces and enhancing public participation, she added.


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