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Tuesday, 8 October, 2002, 13:55 GMT 14:55 UK
Pakistan poll questioned
Pakistan election rally in Lahore
Election campaigning wraps up on Tuesday
Pakistan's main human rights body has questioned the credibility of the country's general elections, the first to be held since the military coup in 1999.


The blatant manner in which the electoral process is being vulgarised. . . is extremely worrying

Human Rights Commission head Afrasiab Khattak
In a report issued in Islamabad on Tuesday, the independent Pakistan Human Rights Commission said it had documentary evidence of electoral malpractice.

It has also criticised constitutional changes, which it said would undermine the effect of the polls.

The elections are being held on Thursday, but two of the country's leading political figures - former prime ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif - are not contesting them.

Critics of the President, Pervez Musharraf, say he wants to ensure that he remains unchallenged by any of Pakistan's other political forces.

Government officials insist the polls will be free and fair.

'Concentrating power'

In a comprehensive report, the group accuses the government of using state machinery to manipulate the election process.

General Musharraf
General Musharraf: Will stay on for five more years
It says the local administration in cities and villages is being used to intimidate the opposition, and officials are openly promoting pro-government parties.

The head of the commission, Afrasiab Khattak, said that incidents of interference in the polls which were reported to them were "only the tip of the iceberg".

The group says it has asked the country's election commission to take note of its findings.

The human rights body also says that the aim of constitutional changes introduced by General Musharraf appeared to be to "deprive the new parliament of power and instead concentrate decision-making chiefly in the hands of an unelected president."

General Musharraf declared himself president in 2001, and is set to serve another five years in office after a controversial referendum in April this year.

He has also proposed creating a body to institutionalise the role of the military in politics.

The military ruler has made clear that he sees no place for the traditional political leaders in Pakistani politics, blaming them for ruining the country.

Campaigning for the polls ends at midnight local time (1900 GMT) on Tuesday.

Poll rallies

Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party (PPP) held a mass election rally late on Monday, which Ms Bhutto addressed via a satellite link from London.

The former prime minister, who lives in exile, lambasted General Musharraf and the military regime, and said only an elected government could put Pakistan on the road to progress.

Ms Bhutto is barred from standing because she failed to appear at hearings into corruption charges.

Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, whose candidacy was initially accepted, has pulled out of the contest.

Mr Sharif also lives in exile.

A breakaway faction of his party, known as the PML-Q, is due to hold its final rally on Tuesday.

Observers say the PML-Q and the PPP are the front-runners in the vote, although neither is expected to win enough seats for a majority in the new national assembly.

Voting will also take place for four provincial assemblies.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Asma Jahangir, Human Rights Commission for Pakistan
"It is important to inform the people what has been taking place"
Khalid Ranjha, Pakistan Law Minister
"These are just allegations, I wish there was some substance"
The BBC's Zaffar Abbas
"The choice for the Tribals may be clear, to remain in isolation or to let ithe world in"
See also:

01 Oct 02 | South Asia
04 Oct 02 | South Asia
08 Aug 02 | South Asia
02 May 02 | Country profiles
08 Oct 02 | South Asia
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