The United States said Thursday parliamentary elections in Pakistan should go forward as planned January 8 despite the assassination of former Prime Minister and opposition leader Benazir Bhutto. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spoke by telephone with Ms. Bhutto's successor as party leader, Amin Fahim, to support the election process. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.
The tone of the U.S. approach was set by President Bush, who in a statement from his Texas home condemned the Bhutto assassination and said Pakistanis should honor her memory by continuing the democratic process for which she gave her life.
The assassination came less than two weeks before scheduled parliamentary voting January 8 in which opposition factions including Ms. Bhutto's Pakistan Peoples' Party had been expected to make a strong showing.
Briefing reporters, State Department Deputy Spokesman Tom Casey said honoring the memory of Ms. Bhutto means not postponing the elections and not re-imposing emergency rule, which President Pervez Mushrarraf declared in early November and rescinded earlier this month under international pressure:
"What we do believe is important is that President Musharraf and others in the Pakistani government do everything they can to create the conditions on the ground to have as free and fair and transparent an election as possible," Casey said. "No political system can last long without having legitimacy in the eyes of its people. And certainly one of the key elements for legitimacy, for Pakistan's government as for any other government, is to be able to hold credible elections that allow the people of that country to have a real say and a real voice in who their leaders are."
Casey said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who broke off an unannounced vacation because of the events in Pakistan, telephoned Ms. Bhutto's husband Asif Ali Zardari to express condolences and also called Amin Fahim, the new head of the Pakistan Peoples' Party to voice support for the electoral process.
The spokesman said the Bush administration believes Pakistan's political system can withstand the trauma of the assassination, and that the only ones who would benefit from an election postponement or a return to emergency rule would be the extremists who perpetrated the killing.
Secretary Rice said in a written statement condemning the assassination that the attack will no doubt test the will and the patience of the Pakistani people.
Rice said that the United States urges Pakistan's people, political leaders and civil society to maintain calm, and work together to build a more moderate, peaceful and democratic future.