Islamabad: Vote counting got under way on Monday after a lacklustre turnout in Pakistan’s parliamentary elections, which passed off relatively peacefully despite fears of sabotage by Islamic militants.
With his future hanging in the balance, President Pervez Musharraf resolved to work with the new civilian government—widely tipped to be led by the party of his slain rival Benazir Bhutto.
Future in balance: Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf.
An overwhelming victory by the opposition, including Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), could leave Musharraf politically vulnerable and even lead to his impeachment.
Musharraf’s political allies were widely forecast to lose their grip over the country’s parliament amid public antipathy over the his recent declaration of emergency rule and purging of the judiciary to safeguard his controversial re-election as president in October.
“It is the fate of the Pakistan People’s Party that it will win, and we will change the system after winning,” said Bhutto’s husband, Asif Ali Zardari, after casting his vote in his hometown of Nawab Shah.
Election officials said partial results would be available late on Monday, but final official results were not expected for two more days. Nationwide voter turnout figures were unavailable, but reports from across the country suggested that most of the 81 million registered voters stayed home.
Ayaz Baig, the election commissioner in Pakistan’s most populous province, Punjab, estimated the turnout in his area at 30-40% — slightly lower than in the 2002 elections. In Baluchistan province, the turnout was estimated at about 35%, election official Sono Khan Baluch said.
Sarwar Bari, who leads Pakistan’s non-profit Free and Fair Elections Network, which had 20,000 observers, said initial reports from the field indicated voter turnout was around 35%—which would be the same as 1997, the lowest in Pakistan’s history.
Opposition officials warned the government against trying to manipulate the results.
“People came out today and they voted for us. But we are hearing that their votes will be stolen after darkness, and we will not tolerate it,”said Shahbaz Sharif, president of his brother Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-N party.
“Those who want to rob our votes should listen that we will not allow them to do it,” he told Geo television.
Musharraf told state television that he would work with the new government regardless of who won the vote. AP