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Regardless of date, U.S. wants free and fair elections in Pakistan

Regardless of date, U.S. wants free and fair elections in Pakistan

The Bush administration and presidential hopefuls from both parties said that it is crucial for Pakistan to hold free and fair elections either as scheduled or fairly soon.
But the administration took a hands-off stance on specific election timing, even as the major political parties in Pakistan appeared to agree Sunday that elections should be held as scheduled Jan. 8 despite the turmoil following the assassination last week of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto. Pakistan's Election Commission is to announce Monday if the vote will be postponed.
"It is up to the political parties in Pakistan to choose their leaders," White House spokesman Scott Stanzel said Sunday in Crawford, Texas, where Bush is vacationing at his ranch. "We believe it is important for Pakistan to confront extremists and continue on the path to democracy by holding free and fair elections. The timing of those elections will be up to the Pakistanis."
Since Bhutto's assassination on Thursday and the chaotic developments since then, the Bush administration has shown public support for Pakistan's government, but considered the investigation into the killing and the election timing as Pakistani matters.
"We want to see the democratic process move forward in Pakistan, and if all of the parties on the ground agree that Jan. 8 is not the right day for that, then we're fine with that," said State Department spokesman Rob McInturff.
"But we want to see a replacement date," McInturff added.
The turmoil in Pakistan provided grist for Republican and Democratic presidential candidates, touring the Sunday television talk shows, to demonstrate their grasp of foreign affairs and their readiness to handle a foreign policy crisis.
The central message from the candidates: elections must be open and honest.
Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama said a slight delay would be understandable, but the assassination must not be "used as an excuse" to postpone elections indefinitely.
"And so my main concern is making sure that the opposition parties feel comfortable that they have the opportunity to participate in fair and free elections," the Illinois senator said on NBC's "Meet The Press."
Hillary Rodham Clinton, on ABC's "This Week," said there should be "free and fair elections with independent monitors."
The New York senator said the elections were "an opportunity for President (Pervez) Musharraf to step up and actually fulfill many of the words and promises that he's made to me and to many others over the course of a number of years."
On CBS's "Face The Nation," Democratic candidate John Edwards, the former North Carolina senator, said elections should take place "as soon as possible but ... it's equally important that the opposition parties be represented. It's equally important that the elections themselves be fair, open, that they be verifiable so that the Pakistani people and the rest of the world know that there was, in fact, a legitimate election."
Another Democratic presidential hopeful, Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said on CNN's "Late Edition" that the United States should tell Musharraf "failure to have transparent elections in this month is going to be extremely consequential for him and for the (Pakistani) army."
Among the Republican presidential contenders, Sen. John McCain of Arizona said on ABC's "This Week" that "we want him (Musharraf) to move forward with the elections to be held. And they may have to be delayed."
Asked about election timing, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee said on NBC's "Meet the Press" that it's "their decision to make" and that meeting a Jan. 8 date could be difficult.
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AP Writer Ben Feller in Crawford, Texas contributed to this report.


Updated : 2021-05-08 07:32 GMT+08:00