More than 13,000 to vie in Pak polls
More than 13,000 nominations have been filed for the January 8 elections in Pakistan, officials said yesterday, as former premiers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif prepared for talks on a polls boycott.
A spokesman for Sharif's party said the meeting between the two opposition leaders was expected to be on Monday.
Benazir said Sunday she was open to talks, but warned that a boycott would only help Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf legitimise his imposition of emergency rule.
"If we all boycott elections, then it will give Musharraf a two-thirds majority in the parliament to validate his provisional constitutional order," she told a press conference in northwestern Peshawar city, where she launched her party's election campaign Saturday.
"That is why we are saying that we will take part in elections under protest, but we will also leave the door open (to talks)."
Election candidates will compete for 272 seats in the National Assembly and 577 in provincial assemblies constituencies, an election commission spokesman told AFP, adding that the commission will meet Monday to review electoral procedures.
"A total of 13,490 nomination papers have been filed for the general elections," he said.
Benazir said she had decided to take part in elections despite fears they would be rigged by the government.
"They (the government) have a plan to rig the elections. They have created improvised or ghost polling stations and also have a plan to steal thousands of ballot papers a night before election and give them to their candidates," she said.
Musharraf, who this week relinquished his military role to become a civilian leader, declared emergency rule on November 3.
He purged the judiciary of judges perceived to be hostile to him after the imposition of emergency rule and installed hand-picked judges who endorsed his October 6 re-election by the assemblies and also validated all extra-constitutional actions.
The deposed judges including former chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry remain under virtual house arrest, though authorities deny their movements are restricted.
Musharraf, sworn in for a second term as president on Thursday, bowed to intense international pressure and said he would lift emergency rule by December 16. He said he wanted to make the elections free and fair.
The election commission spokesman also said the filing of nomination papers had been delayed in some 18 constituencies of the North Western Frontier Province and tribal areas bordering Afghanistan following recent unrest.
Pakistan's military launched a massive operation two weeks ago against militants loyal to pro-Taliban cleric Maulana Fazlullah in Swat and Shangla districts in which some 250 militants have been killed.
On Saturday, Pakistani election authorities in the eastern city of Lahore rejected the candidacy of Sharif's brother, Shahbaz, due to pending criminal charges against him, as well as an alleged bank loan default.