Counting begins in Pakistan after peaceful polling

Updated on Feb 19, 2008 12:31 AM IST
Results are expected to start emerging by midnight and trends should be clear on Tuesday morning. Pakistan votes | PicsIn a fragile state | Video'Elections a fraud' | VideoBig Idea | Amit BaruahTwo nations, two choices
HT Image
HT Image
Reuters | ByAugustine Anthony, Islamabad

Counting began on Monday after an election in Pakistan which was far less violent than feared, although it could result in a parliament set on driving US ally President Pervez Musharraf from power.

The former army chief called for reconciliation after casting his vote in the city of Rawalpindi, where opposition leader and former prime minister Benazir Bhutto was assassinated on Dec 27.

The vote for a new National Assembly and provincial assemblies was to have been held early last month, but was delayed because of Bhutto's assassination.

Polling stations closed their doors at 5 pm (1200 GMT). Results are expected to start emerging by midnight and trends should be clear on Tuesday morning.

The death of Bhutto, the most progressive, Western-friendly politician in a Muslim nation rife with anti-American sentiment, raised concern about stability in the nuclear-armed state.

More than 450 people have died in militant-related violence this year.

Fear of more violence kept many Pakistanis away from the polls, despite 80,000 troops backing up police.

Election official Mohammad Farooq estimated turnout at 35 pct at his polling station in Rawalpindi.

"Considering the security circumstances, that's good," he said as the polls closed.

An intelligence official said 11 people have been killed, seven in Punjab province, and 70 wounded in election violence since voting began.

In Bhutto's home province of Sindh, Home Secretary Arif Ali Khan said two people had been killed and 50 wounded in poll-related incidents.

"This is almost insignificant," said Khan, while expressing sorrow over the deaths.

Musharraf, who came to power in a coup in 1999, pledged to work with the victors to build democracy in a country that has alternated between civilian and army rule throughout its 60-year history.

"Whichever political party wins, whoever becomes prime minister ... I congratulate them and I will fully cooperate with them as president," he told reporters.

Musharraf's popularity plunged over the past year because of his manoeuvres to hold on to power, which included purging the judiciary, and imposing six weeks of emergency rule.

Many Pakistanis also blame the government for rising prices, food shortages and all-too-frequent power cuts.

FEAR

Security concerns affect large parts of Pakistan. A suicide attack on Bhutto party supporters killed 47 people in a northwestern town on Saturday.

"You see suicide bombings everywhere and you can see the empty streets on polling day. It's all because of fear," said civil servant Mohammad Ijaz, voting in the city of Lahore where three people were killed in shootings late on Sunday.

Militants set off bombs at four polling stations in the northwest, three in the Swat Valley, before polls opened, but no one was injured. Army helicopters later attacked suspected militant hideouts in Swat, residents said.

The other worry was vote rigging, which could prompt opposition parties to reject the result and call for street protests, raising concern over how the army would react.

A sympathy vote is expected to help Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party (PPP) become the largest party in the 342-seat National Assembly.

Most analysts doubt the PPP can win a majority. Whom it chooses for coalition partners will be vital to Musharraf.

Bhutto's widower Asif Ali Zardari, co-chairman of the PPP, issued a conciliatory call for unity on the eve of the vote. He did not speak to reporters as he voted in Sindh.

The leader of the other main opposition party, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, made a victory sign as he voted in Lahore.

An alliance between the PPP and Sharif is what Musharraf dreads as Sharif is intent on bringing him down, perhaps through impeachment.

Analysts say Musharraf wants a coalition between the PPP and the Pakistan Muslim League that backs him.

Western allies want a stable Pakistan focused on fighting militancy, as do investors in a stock market that rose 40 per cent last year but has shed about 3 per cent since Bhutto's death.

Nearly 81 million people were registered to vote. Several hundred foreigners, including a team of US senators, and thousands of Pakistanis monitored the election but were not allowed to do exit polls.

(Additional reporting by Zeeshan Haider in Islamabad, Kamran Haider and Jon Hemming in Lahore, Sahar Ahmed in Karachi and Simon Gardner in Larkana)

SHARE THIS ARTICLE ON
Close Story
QUICKREADS

Less time to read?

Try Quickreads

  • Only the Russians' full withdrawal... would guarantee nuclear safety for all of Europe,  Zelensky said in his daily video address.

    Ukraine war: Zelensky urges world to react on Russian-controlled nuclear plant

    Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky urged the international community to force the Russian army to leave the occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant after multiple strikes hit the compound. This statement came after Ukraine accused Russia of shelling the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant again on Thursday, Al Jazeera reported. Ukraine's interior minister said that Kyiv is making contingency plans to face any scenario at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, including evacuating people from the area.

  • A bank employee leaves the Federal Bank of Lebanon, after being held hostage by an armed customer demanding the return of his bank deposits, in the capital Beirut's Hamra street.

    Hostage standoff at Beirut bank ends with gunman's arrest

    A gunman demanding a Beirut bank let Bassam al-Sheikh Hussein, a 42-year-old food-delivery driver withdraw his trapped savings to pay his father's medical bills took up to 10 people hostage in a seven-hour standoff Thursday before surrendering in exchange for what a family lawyer said was $35,000 of his money. A 42-year-old food-delivery driver, Bassam al-Sheikh Hussein, was promptly arrested and taken away by police as he walked out of the bank. Some bystanders hailed him as a hero.

  • Nunay Mohamed, 25, who fled the drought-stricken Lower Shabelle area, holds her one-year old malnourished child at a makeshift camp for the displaced on the outskirts of Mogadishu, Somalia. (File image)

    Somalia’s worst drought in 40 years displaces 1 million people

    Somalia's worst drought in more than 40 years has internally displaced 1 million people since the dry conditions struck in January 2021, according to the United Nations. This year alone, an estimated 755,000 people fled their homes in search of water, the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, said in a statement on its website.

  • File photo of Sri Lanka's then president, Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

    Ex-Sri Lankan president Gotabaya Rajapaksa arrives in Thailand

    Former Sri Lanka President Gotabaya Rajapaksa arrived in Thailand Thursday evening following his departure from Singapore. Rajapaksa was granted entry into Thailand following a request from the Sri Lankan government, NewsWire reported. He left Singapore on Thursday after nearly a month's stay in Singapore. Sri Lankan Parliament Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena announced the official resignation of Rajapaksa on July 15. Sri Lanka has been facing its worst economic crisis since its independence.

  • Chinese Yuan Wang 5 military vessel has the ability to map ocean beds and track satellites of adversary nations.

    Chinese vessel won't dock at Sri Lanka's Hambantota Port as scheduled: Report

    China's high-tech Chinese research vessel, which was to dock at Sri Lanka's Hambantota Port, won't reach there as scheduled, according to a media report on Thursday, citing the port authorities. Newsfirst.lk website reported that the Harbour Master for the Hambantota Port said no vessel can enter the port without his permission. It said the Chinese ballistic missile and satellite tracking ship 'Yuan Wang 5' will not reach Hambantota Port on Thursday.

SHARE
Story Saved
×
Saved Articles
Following
My Reads
Sign out
New Delhi 0C
Friday, August 12, 2022
Start 15 Days Free Trial Subscribe Now