White House spokeswoman Dana Perino praised Pakistan for setting a definite date to hold parliamentary elections. Originally scheduled for January 8th, the elections were postponed after the assassination of opposition leader and former prime minister Benazir Bhutto. The elections will now be held February 18th.
Ms. Perino said the U.S. hopes the people of Pakistan will be able to participate in the process freely, and that the people of Pakistan can decide the leadership that they want moving forward.
U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack also commented on Pakistan's decision:<!-- IMAGE -->
We're pleased that they have scheduled an election date, a firm date that everybody within the Pakistani political system can have confidence in that the elections are going to take place. It's terribly important in the current circumstances where you have so much political turbulence within the Pakistani political system -- we have talked about that from the very beginning -- the importance of scheduling that date."
Terrible violence erupted in Pakistan after the murder of Benazir Bhutto, but that violence has now been significantly reduced. It is important that elections now take place on schedule and that the government make public commitments to ensure there is no election-related fraud or intimidation.
Mr. McCormack said for democracy to succeed in Pakistan, the government should avoid actions that would limit the ability of citizens to participate in the political process:<!-- IMAGE -->
What the Pakistani government and the Pakistani officials need to do now is to make best use of that time between now and February 18th when these elections are scheduled to take place to make sure that independent media is able to operate, to make sure that those who want to peacefully participate in the political process can do so, that any restrictions on political parties are lifted. You need to allow those candidates and those who are legitimate participants in the political process to access that free media, and to make sure that you have the most free, fair, and transparent electoral process in the run-up to the election, on election day, as well as after election day as votes are being counted.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice urged the Pakistani people, political leaders, and civil society to maintain calm and to work together to build a more moderate, peaceful, and democratic future.