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Pakistan Faces Election Delay, Officials to Consult Political Parties

Pakistan election officials say they agree "in principle" to delay elections seen as crucial to restoring political stability following the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. But, as VOA's Nancy-Amelia Collins reports from Islamabad, the commission will consult with political parties before announcing a new date.

The secretary-general of the election commission, Kunwar Dilshad, told reporters in Islamabad Tuesday the date for the elections will be decided after talks with political parties.

"Election commission of Pakistan has decided that, in the first stance, the political parties may be consulted, may be, may be consulted," said Dilshad. "So, after the consultation with the political parties, the date of the poll will be decided."

Dilshad said it looked impossible to hold elections as originally scheduled on January 8. He said the new date would be announced on Wednesday.

Opposition parties want the elections held as scheduled next week. But officials from the ruling Pakistan Muslim-Q party say the polls may be delayed for several months because of unrest following the assassination of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto last week.

Sherry Rehman, the spokeswoman of Ms. Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party says the government should allow the elections to take place as planned.

"The party has very clearly stated its position, we would like the elections to be held on time," she said. "The PPP being the most affected party by this assassination - if it is able to go into election and fight for the kind of political participation that Ms. Bhutto gave her life for, then I think the government of Pakistan should have no problem."

Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who heads a large opposition party, has threatened to take his supporters to the streets if the elections are delayed.

Election commission officials say a delay is likely because many of their offices were burned and voter rolls destroyed in riots that broke out after the assassination.

U.S. officials say a slight delay in the election date would be acceptable, if all the political parties agree and if there is a definite date for the elections.

The death of former Prime Minister Bhutto has worsened the turmoil in Pakistan, which has been wracked for nearly a year by political disputes and a growing insurgency by Islamic militants. President Pervez Musharraf has become widely unpopular, after firing a Supreme Court justice early in 2007 and then imposing emergency rule and media censorship a few months ago.

The elections are seen as key to restoring political calm and establishing democratic rule.