By Ray Fleming
THE decision by Pakistan's Electoral Commission to postpone the election due to take place next Tuesday was hardly surprising but it raises two questions: why did it take so long to reach this decision given that the event which led to it, the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, took place a full week ago?; and why is the new date, February 18, so far ahead? Conspiracy theorists will almost certainly conclude that the answer to both questions is the same -- that President Musharaff wanted the election postponed and thought it would be most effectively done at the latest possible moment. Which raises the next question: why did he want the election postponed? The conspiracy theorists have two answers to that: if the election had been held on the earlier date there might have been a groundswell of public sympathy for the Bhutto-family's Pakistan People's Party that could have helped it to form a coalition government with Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League (N) rather than having to join with President Musharraf's party; and the delay will give Musharraf ample time to plan how to rig the election to make sure that does not happen in any event. The fact that both the Bhutto clan and Nawaz Sharif wanted the earlier date despite the short time they had to mount their campaigns shows how little voting in Pakistan has to do with policies and how much with loyalty to religion and personalities. Now a dangerous six weeks lie ahead.

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