Pakistan Election Body Is Biased Against Opposition, Group Says
By Khalid Qayum and Khaleeq Ahmed

Feb. 12 (Bloomberg) — Pakistan’s Election Commission, the agency overseeing next week’s national ballot, isn’t impartial, Human Rights Watch said, as a survey indicated President Pervez Musharraf’s popularity has declined.

“The failure of Pakistan’s Election Commission to act on allegations of irregularities means the electoral machinery for national elections cannot be considered impartial,” the New York-based group said in a statement today.

Pakistan’s opposition parties say the Feb. 18 parliamentary elections won’t be free and fair under Musharraf, an ex-army general who has ruled the country since he took power in a military coup in Oct. 1999. The commission is ignoring the arrest and harassment of opposition candidates and the misuse of state resources to the advantage of candidates backed by Musharraf, Human Rights Watch said in the report.

Presidential spokesman Rashid Qureshi rejected the report and said those accusing the government of rigging the elections were finding excuses.

Human Rights Watch released the report a day after the Washington-based International Republican Institute forecast that political parties opposing Musharraf would win elections to the 342-member Parliament and the four provincial assemblies.

Severely Eroded
“Musharraf’s political position has severely eroded,” the institute said in a statement. Seventy-five percent of respondents want Musharraf to resign, up eight points from the previous opinion poll in November, it said.

Eight percent of respondents said Musharraf “was the best person to handle the country’s problems,” dropping from 15 percent in November, according to the survey.

The institute said it interviewed 3,485 adult men and women from rural and urban areas in Pakistan’s four provinces between Jan. 19 and Jan. 29.

“Such polls do not reflect the sentiments of 160 million people,” Qureshi said in a telephone interview from the capital, Islamabad.

The country’s opposition parties include the Pakistan Peoples Party, led by former premier Benazir Bhutto until her assassination in December, and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz.

They had the backing of a combined 72 percent of respondents in the survey. The pro-Musharraf Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid-i-Azam had 14 percent, according to the institute.

Seventy-nine percent of those surveyed said they would regard the elections as rigged if the pro-Musharraf party wins.

The elections were delayed by six weeks after the assassination of Bhutto in a suicide bomb and gunfire attack on Dec. 27 after she addressed an election rally in Rawalpindi, near Islamabad. Her death triggered riots that killed at least 58 people.

The election campaign has been marred by violence and bomb attacks.

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