Pakistan elections observer felt little danger

MARYSVILLE — Kelly Wright and his Ugandan partner had just returned from a rural outpost in Pakistan when he was told about an explosion at a political rally in the city of Rawalpindi.

The Marysville resident turned on an English language television station and watched coverage of the Dec. 27 assassination of charismatic Pakistani opposition leader and former prime minister Benazir Bhutto.

She was shot after addressing a crowd. A suicide bomb then exploded, killing many more people.

For the next few days, Wright hunkered down in his hotel room in the city of Multan while demonstrations filled some of the streets in that town. The violence was worse in other Pakistani cities, Wright said. Multan is located in central Pakistan near the border with India.

Wright was there as part of an international election observation team for parliamentary elections that had been scheduled for next week. Turmoil following the shooting led the Pakistani government to postpone the elections until Feb. 18.

Wright returned to his home in Marysville on Thursday after spending 42 hours on flights and layovers in the trip from the opposite side of the globe.

“It’s pretty much directly on the other side of the world from Washington state,” Wright, 44, said.

Wright was on a short-term contract with the nonprofit group International Republican Institute. He was on the advance group of what was supposed to be a 60-person observation team of the election.

He said he felt safe throughout his stay because the sponsoring organization had excellent security personnel protecting team members.

There were demonstrations, burning of tires and some other violence in Multan, but members of Bhutto’s People’s Party of Pakistan were responsible for violent riots elsewhere in the country, Wright said.

“A bunch of bank windows got broken but it certainly wasn’t WTO (World Trade Organization) in Seattle,” he said of trouble just down the street from his hotel.

Wright doesn’t know if he will be sent again in February, but he said he’s willing to go if asked.

The job entails meeting election personnel to make sure they are prepared for the vote. He also met with party officials and candidates, reviewing their concerns about getting a fair election.

President Pervez Musharraf’s recent decision to bring in Britain’s Scotland Yard to help investigate the assassination was a major concession and a positive sign, Wright said.

While in Pakistan awaiting word whether or not he would be pulled out, Wright was not allowed to comment on the situation, partly for safety reasons.

However, late last week he said he really didn’t feel in personal danger because of the tight security arranged by the International Republican Institute.

The day of the assassination, he telephoned his wife in Marysville and broke the news to her about it, and assured her he was fine.

Wright, who works for Liz Loomis Public Affairs when he’s not involved in politics, is no stranger to elections.

He formerly worked for the state Democratic Party and is still a member of the state Democratic Central Committee, representing the 38th Legislative District in Marysville and Everett.

He also has done political work for another nonprofit group, the National Democratic Institute, in Macedonia and Pakistan in 2004 and 2005.

Wright returned to Pakistan in early December to watch the elections and was planning to participate in a report making recommended changes in the procedures.

“The assassination of Benazir Bhutto is a great tragedy for Pakistan,” Wright said. “It was a tremendous blow to the nation. In many ways, she was a towering political figure.”

He said her killing was a greater tragedy to people in Pakistan than the assassination of President Kennedy was to U.S. people in 1963.

Reporter Jim Haley: 425-339-3447 or jhaley@heraldnet.com.

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