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Pakistan polls the most colourless ever

Security concerns caused by suicide attacks or the severe cold wave the February 18 general election may be the most colourless elections.
By HT Correspondent | PTI, Islamabad
UPDATED ON FEB 11, 2008 06:12 PM IST

Blame it on former premier Benazir's Bhutto's assassination, security concerns caused by deadly suicide attacks or the severe cold wave the February 18 general election may well be the most colourless elections in Pakistan's history.

Polls are less than a week away but there is no excitement in the air. Few leaders have addressed large rallies since Bhutto was assassinated in December, and the lack of countrywide tours by the top leaders of various political parties have, in fact, left many wondering if elections will indeed be held.

"Benazir Bhutto's assassination, the economic crisis and the appeal for a boycott by both the lawyers' movement and the All Parties Democratic Movement has minimised election fervour," said Farooq Tariq, a spokesperson for the Labour Party Pakistan.

"If the February 18 elections do take place, the Pakistan People's Party will get a massive sympathy vote. But not much will change because the PPP leadership has already made it clear that it is willing to work with President Pervez Musharraf," he said.

So far the election campaign is limited to newspaper and TV advertisements and the common man is busy grappling with the flour crisis and power, gas and fuel shortages.

"We are struggling with basic issues like finding flour at a reasonable price to feed our families. We have to deal with many power and gas cuts in this severe cold. Where is the time to think about going to vote?" asked Farooq, a fruit vendor in the Jinnah Super Market.

There are others who cannot be bothered with the "fraud elections" because they think the polls will be rigged and the PML-Q, which backs Musharraf, will be back in power.

"Every one is talking about the elections being rigged. All this talk of polls being free, fair and transparent is nonsense," said another shopkeeper at the market.

Rukhsana Ahmed, a housewife, blamed the lack of enthusiasm for the polls on the intense cold wave that has swept Pakistan over the past two weeks.

"People are not stepping out of their homes because it is raining and it is so cold. Life is even more difficult with power and gas cuts. How can anyone be bothered about elections?" she said.

Several people are disenchanted with the electoral process because their names have not been included in the voters' list.

"My name is not there in the voter's list. I cannot vote. But I know the PPP will sweep the polls," said Zain Khan, a IT professional.

But the PPP's complacency has left many wondering if it is banking too heavily on the sympathy wave generated by Bhutto's killing in a suicide attack in Rawalpindi on December 27 last year. The violence that followed her killing forced the Election Commission to postpone the polls that were originally scheduled for January 8.

Some political analysts even feel that the intensity of the sympathy wave has waned, and would not generate too many votes.

"The PPP is counting on sympathy votes and it believes that it does not need a mass public campaign as was the case in the past," Tariq said.

Security issues are also keeping many enthusiastic electioneers at bay. Both PPP and PML-N leaders have said electioneering is low-keyed because of the many threats.

Thirty people were killed when a suicide attacker blew himself up in a crowded election rally near Charsadda in the North West Frontier Province on Saturday, the latest in a series of devastating bombings.

"There are threats to all the major leaders. And nobody wants to risk their life by coming to these rallies. See what happened at Charsadda? So many innocent people killed and many more injured," a PPP leader, who did not wish to be named, said.

The PML-Q is also taking it easy in view of threats to its leaders. "It's not easy to organise rallies. There are too many security risks involved. And we want to play safe," said a PML-Q leader.

Similar fears are voiced by the voters. "Look at the many suicide bombings across our country. So many innocent people are killed almost every day. Who would want to risk one's life in the present scenario? It's better to be safe than sorry," said Mehreen Jabbar, a university student.

Even bloggers are keying reams on the "lethargic election process" and calling it the most "hollow polls" witnessed by Pakistan.

"There is no build up to the upcoming February elections and there is no semblance of excitement in the air," wrote Ghazala Khan in her blog titled "Jaag Pakistani voter jag".

Hasan Ali, a lawyer, had the last word, "Elections are a necessary step to secure peace and sustainable democracy, but not with potential candidates under house arrest or expelled from Pakistan. Without the restoration of the pre-emergency judiciary would anyone take these elections seriously?"

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