Pakistan gears up for polls - and poll observers

February 15th, 2008 - 2:02 pm ICT by admin  

By Muhammad Najeeb
Islamabad, Feb 15 (IANS) More than 500 observers have reached Pakistan to monitor the Feb 18 polls while about 500 others including journalists are expected to reach before polling day three days away on Monday. The Election Commission has made elaborate arrangements to ensure that international monitors have easy access into the polling stations.

“We have instructed our officers throughout the country to facilitate them to the maximum to ensure that they can monitor the election process,” Secretary Election Commission Kanwar Muhammad Dilshad told IANS.

The Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN) has fielded 20,000 monitors throughout the country. Known as domestic observers they will report on the election process and any violations of rule by the polling staff and candidates.

“We are independently observing the elections and our daily reports are sent to media,” said Mudassir Rizvi, national coordinator of the FAFEN.

The federal government has banned the entry of international election observers and foreign journalists to sensitive areas, including 45 cantonment areas and 63 districts across the country. These have been declared as prohibited areas on polling day.

“I am not sure if this is because of the security situation or there’s something else,” FAFEN secretary general Sarwar Bari said, stopping short of saying that the government was maybe planning rigging.

In addition to the prohibited areas, a belt of 10 miles along the Pakistan-Xinjiang, Pakistan-India and the Pakistan-Afghan borders was also declared sensitive.

Besides, a belt of 10 miles along the Line of Control in Azad Kashmir was declared a no-go area for observers and journalists.

The government has directed the police chief and all district coordination officers that all prohibited areas notified by the interior ministry should remain inaccessible for observers and journalists. Anyone violating the rules would be arrested.

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