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Pakistan boosts security for election

  • Story Highlights
  • Pakistan's government beefs up security for parliamentary election on Monday
  • Election comes amid widespread criticism of Pakistan's electoral processes
  • Troops mobilized at or near polling stations across the country
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ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (CNN) -- Pakistan's government is beefing up security for a "fair, transparent and peaceful" parliamentary election on Monday, a Pakistani government spokesman said.

The election comes amid widespread criticism of Pakistan's electoral processes, lambasted internally and throughout the world for hindering opposition politicians and favoring President Pervez Musharraf.

Interior Ministry spokesman Javed Iqbal Cheema told reporters Tuesday that the Army has begun mobilizing troops at or near polling stations across the country, a process that will be completed by Friday.

He said the federal government has placed security forces such as the Rangers and the Frontier Corps at the disposal of provincial governments.

"All these arrangements have been made to ensure that people will cast their votes without any fear in an environment of peace and order. Nobody would be allowed to disrupt the polling process or create any law and order situation," Cheema said. "Anyone trying to hinder process shall be dealt with very sternly."

There will be 64,175 polling stations across the country, 1,000 international observers and journalists and 20,000 local observers to monitor elections, the government said.

The vote, originally scheduled for early January, was postponed until Monday in the wake of the assassination of opposition politician Benazir Bhutto, killed on December 27 while she was campaigning in Rawalpindi.

The latest criticism of the electoral processes came Tuesday, when the Human Rights Watch, a watchdog group, issued a report saying that the election can't be "considered impartial" because Pakistan's Election Commission hasn't acted to deal with allegations of irregularities.

"The structure of the commission, which has wide powers to investigate complaints and take action, also suggests it will not rule fairly in the election," the report said.

Since the official election period began in November 2007, the commission "has ignored allegations of widespread irregularities."

Meanwhile, leaders of the nation's two opposition parties said if their groups win a majority in the elections, they will form a "consensus," according to Wasif Syed, spokesman for the Pakistan People's Party -- Bhutto's party.

However, Ahsan Iqbal, spokesman for the PML-N party, stopped short of calling it a coalition, saying only that leader Nawaz Sharif had met with PPP officials and pledged to work with other political groups to form a government to address Pakistan's problems.

Syed described the two leaders -- Sharif and Asif Zardari of the PPP -- as "like-minded" democratic forces. Both parties warned the government not to rig elections, saying that could be disastrous for the country.

Human Rights Watch, however, noted "numerous complaints of improper government assistance to the ruling party and illegal interference with opposition activities," said Brad Adams, the organization's Asia director. "But the election commission has done nothing significant to address these problems, raising serious questions about its impartiality."

Some of the irregularities cited by the group have occurred in Punjab and Sindh provinces. Examples include:

  • Police in the Pujabi capital, Lahore, have torn down opposition "electoral symbols" and have erected banners and posters supporting the Pakistan Muslim League-Q.
  • Police in Punjab stopped the Pakistan Muslim League-N, an opposition group, "from preparing for a reception for their leader, Nawaz Sharif, citing oral 'orders from above.'" Officials removed PML-N banners, confiscated loudspeakers and detained activists.
  • A PML-N office received a threatening phone call and was told to shut down. Later, shots were fired at the office.
  • Police in the Thatta district in Sindh province have obstructed the opposition Pakistan People's Party "by not giving security clearance to its candidates to hold public meetings" and removing the group's flags and banners.
  • Police have threatened to register cases against opposition candidates and have asked candidates to back the pro-Musharraf party.
  • Judges and other officials have been transferred across Pakistan, violating "legal provisions banning postings and transfers after the announcement of the election schedule, which took place on November 20, 2007."
  • The government has condemned recent suicide attacks in Pakistan, part of pre-election violence that is keeping the populace on edge.

    In the latest incident, a bicycle bomb in Baluchistan province Tuesday injured six people outside the offices of an independent candidate. The candidate, Sardar Aslam Bizenjo, was not at his office at the time.

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    The blast came a day after Mansoor Dadullah, a wanted Taliban commander, and four associates were captured during a raid in Baluchistan at the border with Afghanistan. Another was killed.

    Saturday, an explosion at a political rally in Charsadda near Peshawar in the North-West Frontier Province killed at least 16 people -- including Awami National Party candidate Nisar Ali -- and injured 56. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

    CNN Correspondent Reza Sayah contributed to this report.

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