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EU Finds Flaws in Pakistani Vote - 2002-10-12

European Union observers say Pakistan's government interfered in the election process, leading to "serious flaws." The government denies the allegations. Thursday's elections for the national assembly and four provincial assemblies were the first since the military seized power in a bloodless coup in 1999.

The head of the EU observer mission, John Cushnahan, says conditions established by the government to hold the elections did not create the climate for democratic polls. He said the Election Commission was partial to government candidates, allowed state funds to go to pro-government parties and limited parties' campaign time. Mr. Cushnahan also criticized the government for using state-run television and radio to promote its views.

"The holding of a general election does not of itself guarantee the establishment of democracy," he said. "Any abuse of power, whether for monetary gain or anything else, should be addressed by firm and impartial enforcement of the rule of law, not by unjustified interference with electoral arrangements and the democratic process. Regrettably, the Pakistan authorities engaged in a course of action, which resulted in serious flaws in the electoral process."

The government rejected the criticism. The deputy foreign minister, who is currently traveling in Turkey, said the elections were 'fair, free and transparent." A spokesman for the Pakistan election commission rejected the EU allegations, saying the arrangements for the elections were "excellent."

The head of the European Union mission also criticized constitutional changes President General Pervez Musharraf enacted a few weeks before the polls, which give the president power to dismiss parliament, and give the military a greater political role through a new National Security Council.

Mr. Cushnahan pointed out his mission has reservations about the real transfer of power to the elected government. "The powers that have been reversed to the president and National Security Council raise serious questions as to whether or not this will happen," he said.

A newly established party, the Pakistan Muslim League, loyal to President Musharraf, has emerged as the strongest political force in the elections. In the 342-seat National Assembly, the party has won 77 seats. Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto's party is second with 63 seats.