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Pakistan Election Decision Tuesday, Stocks Fall


Political violence in Pakistan is declining a day after the party of the slain opposition leader Benazir Bhutto announced it would contest upcoming elections. The pressure is now on President Pervez Musharraf to hold the polls, and electoral officials say they will announce on Tuesday whether or not to postpone the January 8 elections. Senior government and electoral officials told news agencies Monday the ballot will likely be postponed for at least several weeks.VOA's Nancy-Amelia Collins in Islamabad has more.

Life is slowly returning to normal across Pakistan just four days after opposition leader Benazir Bhutto was assassinated as she was leaving a rally in Rawalpindi. But political conflict continues over when to hold elections.

Ms. Bhutto's death caused chaos as violence broke out across this nuclear-armed nation, killing more than 40 people, damaging millions of dollars worth of property.

Shoaib Memon, the director of the Karachi Stock Exchange, which plunged 4.7 percent after opening Monday, says the market will not improve unless elections are held soon.

"If elections are deferred that would add uncertainties and I think in the next few weeks we can see markets falling by another 10 to 15 percen," said Memon.

Elections officials said Monday the decision on whether or not to postpone the January 8 elections would be announced Tuesday.

Fazalur Rehman, director of the Institute of Strategic Studies in Islamabad, says it is vital to hold elections.

"I think that is very crucial. Elections are going to be held under any circumstances, if not now maybe a few weeks down the road, but certainly they'll have to hold elections," said Rehman. "The people are in no mood to compromise on that."

On Sunday, Ms. Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party announced her 19-year-old son, Bilawal Bhutto Zadari, would lead the PPP. Her husband, Asif Ali Zadari, as co-chairman, will run the party while his son returns to Oxford University in Britain to finish his studies. The PPP also said it would contest the polls.

Opposition parties are demanding the government hold the elections on January 8 as planned, but an official with the country's ruling party, the Pakistan Muslim-Q, said the polls could be delayed for up to three or four months.

Political analyst Fazalur Rehman says the government of President Pervez Musharraf is likely to be concerned the PPP will gain too much power if the elections are held now.

"It's a big question for President Musharraf because now the PPP will certainly have a lot of sympathy vote… and the PPP can emerge as the very strong political party in the parliament," added Rehman. "So that is something, which might be a major concern for the government."

While most of the country appeared to be recovering from the violence on Monday, sporadic violence still broke out in parts of Pakistan with protestors firing into the air in the southern city of Hyderabad and throwing stones.

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