Islamabad, Oct. 5 (Reuters): Pakistan’s Election Commission dismissed talk today that the government was “pre-rigging” the October 10 parliamentary elections, and vowed to make sure voting was free and fair.
The Election Commission was widely criticised earlier this year for the conduct of a referendum extending President Pervez Musharraf’s rule, with independent observers saying the April vote was massively rigged in Musharraf’s favour.
This time around many political parties say Gen. Musharraf, who took power in a bloodless coup in 1999, is rigging the elections in advance, partly by pressuring leading local politicians to join a pro-government political party, PML(QA).
But Election Commission secretary Hassan Mohammed told a news conference there was no substance to the allegations.
“We have received letters of complaints from various people, including leaders of political parties about the possibility of pre-poll rigging,” he said.
“But I assure you that the election commission — and indeed the entire government — is making every effort to ensure the elections are held in a manner that is free and fair and totally transparent.”
Hassan said the idea that the government favoured PML(QA) was “false, utterly baseless and does no service to either the Election Commission... or democracy”.
His comments were immediately dismissed by one of Pakistan's smaller political parties, the Tehreek-e-Insaf (Movement for Justice) headed by former cricketer Imran Khan.
“This is a blatant lie,” said Akbar Babar, the party’s information secretary. “I have irrefutable evidence that government machinery and employees are being used to drum up support for the PML(QA).”
Babar said he had photographs showing district government leaders addressing political rallies on behalf of PML(QA).
“If this isn't rigging, what else is',” he asked.
Thursday’s polls mark the fifth time in 14 years that Pakistanis have voted to elect a new government.
None of the previous four civilian administrations have been able to complete their tenures, each accused of massive corruption and misrule. Three were dismissed by presidential decree, the fourth overturned by Musharraf’s coup.
Musharraf accuses exiled former Prime Ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif of looting the country and has effectively barred them from returning to Pakistan to contest the elections.