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200 int'l observers for Pakistan polls

Pakistan clears over 200 observers to monitor the Jan 8 elections to the national and provincial assemblies.

world Updated: Dec 27, 2007 01:59 IST

Pakistan has cleared over 200 international observers to monitor the January 8 elections to the national and provincial assemblies.

The US-based International Republican Institute (IRI) will send 60 observers and the European Union nearly 70 observers ahead of polls, Foreign Office spokesman Mohammad Sadiq told reporters on Wednesday.

"We have received requests from all over the world and almost all of them have been approved," he said. "We have cleared some 200 observers. They (include) parliamentarians, officials and representatives of various organizations."

The observers from the IRI include representatives from the US, Iraq, Cambodia, Liberia, Azerbaijan, Morocco and South Africa. The EU will send a 12-member core team and another 55-strong long-term observation mission.

The NGO Researcher has sent representatives from Germany and Switzerland. "Some of the observers are already in the country," Sadiq said.

Responding to a question on whether the Commonwealth had approached Pakistan for sending its observers, he said: "The Commonwealth has announced it will review its decision on Pakistan's suspension (from the grouping) after the January 8 elections. That will be the time when we will actively consider our relationship with the Commonwealth."

The observers will have to abide by a detailed code of conduct issued by the Election Commission. "We hope this code of conduct is followed in letter and spirit," Sadid said.

There would be "no restrictions" on the movement of the observers though "areas which are active militarily are out of bounds", he said. "Passes are being issued to the observers. With these passes they would be able to reach out to the polling stations, election officials and other stakeholders."

Earlier, media reports said international observers will not be allowed to interact freely with voters or to conduct exit polls. "There will be a complete restriction on foreign observers to query any voter about the name of the candidate or the party for which he or she has cast a vote while coming out of the polling station. The exit polls are banned," The News reported on Wednesday quoting sources in the Election Commission.

Another 20,000 local observers will also be deployed for the polls by civil society groups. Election Commission Secretary Kanwar Dilshad said "foreign observers would be restricted so that they do not face or cause any security problem".

Election staff will also be authorised to stop observers from taking part in activities that may interfere with the smooth holding of the polls.

Opposition leaders Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif have alleged that the government would indulge in "massive rigging" to benefit the PML-Q, which backs President Pervez Musharraf.

Musharraf, however, has said the polls will be "absolutely fair and transparent" while the caretaker government has asked opposition parties to furnish evidence to back their allegations about rigging.