Islamabad: Pakistani electoral officials have decided "in principle" to delay a Jan. 8 poll after Benazir Bhutto''s killing last week sparked turmoil in the nuclear-armed country, but put off a final decision until Wednesday.
The Election Commission said it had to consult political parties before announcing a new date.
The opposition leader''s assassination on Thursday triggered bloodshed across the nation and rage against President Pervez Musharraf, casting doubts on Pakistan''s stability and the transition to democratic rule in the country, a front-line ally in US anti-terrorism efforts. Bhutto''s Pakistan People''s Party (PPP), which can expect to reap a considerable sympathy vote after Bhutto''s murder, and the other main opposition party, led by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, want the election to go ahead as scheduled.
"It is up to the people of Pakistan to choose their future, and the time is now," Sharif and Bhutto''s husband, Asif Ali Zardari, now co-chairman of her party along with their 19-year old son, Bilawal, said in a joint statement.
"The January 8th elections must proceed as scheduled. This will not only be a tribute to the memory of Benazir Bhutto, but even more important, a reaffirmation of the cause of democracy for which she died," they said.
Election Commission official Kanwar Dilshad had told reporters earlier on Tuesday that "in principle" the election was being delayed and a new date would be announced on Wednesday.
VOTER ROLLS BURNT
The commission has said many of its offices in Sindh, Bhutto''s home province, were burnt in rioting after her murder, and election material including voter rolls reduced to ashes.
"We will inform the political parties about the situation in Sindh where our 13 offices were burnt. We will inform them about the ground realities and then we will fix a date in consultation with them," Dilshad said.
Analysts expect the vote to be postponed to late February but also say a delay could lead to violence. The pro-Musharraf Pakistan Muslim League (Q) has said it favours a delay because of the security situation. Opponents say 1a delay would work to Musharraf''s advantage.
Pakistan is gripped by fears of capital flight if security worsens. Pakistan share prices were down three percent on Tuesday.
US State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey said that, if the election could be held in safety "then that''s probably what should happen".
"The key here is that there be a date certain for elections in Pakistan. We would certainly have concerns about some sort of indefinite postponement," Casey said on Monday. "Looking at the law and order situation, which is quite (difficult), I don''t know if an election could be held or not," Nadeem Saeed, who works for a multinational company, said as he walked to work in Karachi on Tuesday.