Pakistan polls will strengthen democracy: army chief

Pakistan's army chief said Tuesday that general elections scheduled for May would be held on time and help cement democracy in a country that has seen military rule for half its history.

The polls are due to mark the first democratic transition of power after a civilian government has served a full, five-year term with the last period of dictatorship ending in 2008.

"Allah willing, general elections would be held in the country on 11th of May. We must not harbour any suspicions or misgivings about it," General Ashfaq Kayani told a military remembrance gathering in the garrison city of Rawalpindi.

"This indeed is a golden opportunity, which can usher in an era of true democratic values in the country," the 61-year-old said.

Pakistan's powerful military is still seen as the driving force behind the nuclear-armed country's national security policy and is viewed with deep suspicion by the civilian political classes.

But Kayani, who took over as army chief from former military ruler Pervez Musharraf, said it was time to move forward.

"In my opinion, it is not merely retribution, but awareness and participation of the masses that can truly end this game of hide and seek between democracy and dictatorship.

"Our salvation resides in transforming the government into a true platform of public representation," he added.

Kayani added the army was doing its part to ensure peaceful elections following a wave of attacks against politicians and election workers that has so far claimed 61 lives since April 11, according to an AFP tally.

"I assure you, that we stand committed to wholeheartedly assist and support in the conduct of free, fair and peaceful elections; to the best of our capabilities and remaining within the confines of the Constitution.

Fears of attack and a direct threat from the Taliban against the three parties in the outgoing government have curtailed public rallies ahead of the polls.