Pakistani agents ‘are rigging election for Musharraf’
The Daily Telegraph
By Isambard Wilkinson in Jacobabad

PAKISTAN’S intelligence agencies have rigged next week’s election in favour of President

Pervez Musharraf ‘s political allies, according to a retired senior intelligence official.

He said that intelligence agencies had targeted key rural constituencies, where, he alleged, electoral rolls had been fixed, ballot boxes “pre-stuffed” and compliant returning and presiding officers drafted to polling stations.

Monday’s parliamentary elections will determine the political future of Mr Musharraf, a key ally in the US-led war on terrorism, and his ruling party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Q (PML-Q).

Mr Musharraf, who sacked senior judges two months ago to pave the way for his re-election as president, could face impeachment by a hostile parliament if his political allies fail to win.

The retired intelligence official alleged that the country’s powerful military intelligence agencies had focused on rigging marginal seats in the Punjab to enable the PML-Q to control parliament.

“Nothing is needed on the day. It is all pre-planned,” he said. “The ISI [Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate] has directed and advised the PML-Q which seats need to be targeted and assisted them in achieving favourable results.”

The Punjab is the most politically pivotal of Pakistan’s four provinces. It sends 183 MPs to the 342-seat national assembly and is home to the PML-Q’s ruling clan.

However, the retired intelligence official said that, despite the manipulation of election results, Mr Musharraf’s party would struggle to gain control of parliament.

Yesterday the third opinion poll in a week showed Mr Musharraf’s popularity plummeting. A survey released this week, by the US government-funded International Republican Institute, said half the Pakistanis polled planned to vote for the party of Benazir Bhutto, the assassinated opposition leader, 22 per cent backed the party of Nawaz Sharif, the former prime minister, and only 14 per cent favoured the PML-Q.

At a local level, in Jacobabad in Sindh province, opponents of the PML-Q candidate, Fahd Malik, who is the nephew of Mian Mohammedan Soomro, the caretaker prime minister, claimed rigging tactics had begun.

Illahi Bux Soomro, a candidate for Mr Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N), has lodged complaints with the election commission claiming that 1,000 identity cards had been taken from prisoners in the local jail to be used to rig the postal ballot.

He also claimed that a returning officer had been advised to take “sick leave” and a police superintendent had been replaced after refusing to comply with government plans to rig elections.

Mr Sharif’s party said it would hand a dossier on the irregularities to Robert Evans, the London MEP who is leading a team of election monitors from the European Union. The EU has expressed concern about the elections.

Mr Malik denied the allegations, saying that the superintendent had been transferred because he “had not been able to maintain law and order”.

Mr Musharraf sought to quash poll-rigging reports. He said yesterday that voting would be “free, fair, transparent and peaceful”. The assassination of Miss Bhutto in December sparked a wave of anti-government violence and her widower, Asif Ali Zardari, said that there could be more protests if the elections were rigged.

Mr Musharraf’s chances of political survival depend on the PML-Q’s ability to strike a power-sharing deal with Mr Zardari, who, as co-chairman of his wife’s party, held his first election rally yesterday.

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