KARACHI (Reuters) - Benazir Bhutto was poised to reveal proof that Pakistan’s election commission and shadowy spy agency were seeking to rig an upcoming general election the night she was assassinated, a top aide said on Tuesday.
Senator Latif Khosa, who authored a 160-page dossier with Bhutto documenting rigging tactics, said they ranged from intimidation to fake ballots, and were in some cases unwittingly funded by U.S. aid.
Bhutto had been due to give the report to two visiting U.S. lawmakers over dinner on Dec. 27, the day she was killed in a suicide bombing.
“The state agencies are manipulating the whole process,” Khosa, a top Bhutto aide and head of her Pakistan People’s Party election monitoring unit, told Reuters.
“There is rigging by the ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence), the election commission and the previous government, which is still continuing to hold influence. They were on the rampage.”
President Pervez Musharraf’s spokesman Rashid Qureshi dismissed the claim as “ridiculous”.
“It makes one laugh,” he said. “The president has said a free, fair, transparent and peaceful election is essential, which forms part of his overall strategy for transforming Pakistan into a fully democratic (nation).”
“Benazir’s coming back to Pakistan was part of a national reconciliation ordinance,” he added. “Take it from me, it’s going to be perhaps the best election that Pakistan has ever had.”
Khosa said the report, entitled ‘Yet another stain on the face of democracy’, details how the spy agency was planning to issue 25,000 pre-stamped ballots for each of 108 candidates for national assembly seats in Punjab from the party that backs President Musharraf and formed his government.
“They have used intimidatory tactics, they intimidated the returning officers into rejecting nomination papers ... they prevented candidates from submitting their nomination papers,” Khosa said.
“This happened in Baluchistan and in the other central areas of Pakistan. It happened in Sindh.”
He said the ISI also had a “mega computer” which could hack into any computer and was connected to the Election Commission’s system.
Separately the commission had tried to manipulate the voting register by leaving millions of potential voters out, he added.
An initial draft list of voters published in June put the electorate at 52 million people, more than 20 million short, triggering a backlash from Musharraf’s politial opponents.
The Supreme Court ordered the commission to revise the list, and in October it raised the total to 80 million.
“The Election Commission is completely subservient to the government,” Khosa said.
In the Election Commission’s case, U.S. financial aid had been used in rigging, he added, stressing however he did not believe it was diverted military aid.
“She was going to give the dossier to two U.S. lawmakers simply because they happened to be visiting. It was then going to be made public,” Khosa said.
“Benazir was supposed to hold a press conference. It was going to be distributed to everyone, but unfortunately that did not arise because she was assassinated.”