Pakistan polling mostly peaceful as people queue up to vote

February 18th, 2008 - 4:51 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Nawaz Sharif
(Second Lead)
By Muhammad Najeeb
Islamabad, Feb 18 (IANS) Tens of thousands queued up across Pakistan Monday to elect a new parliament and four provincial assemblies in the crucial 10th general election. Two major incidents of violence and some minor skirmishes among supporters of contesting candidates were reported. Ashif Ashraf, a candidate of the Pakistan Muslim League led by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif (PML-N), was shot dead in Lahore. Nine of his supporters were injured in the attack.

In another incident, militants blew up a polling station in Shakardara district of Swat Valley early Monday.

When contacted, Election Commission Secretary Kanwar M. Dilshad said voting at two polling stations in Balochistan was postponed as some miscreants took away hundreds of ballot papers after overpowering policemen and election staff.

“Otherwise polling is peaceful and smooth throughout the country,” he told IANS.

Dilshad said the polling that started at 8 a.m. will continue till 5 p.m. but all those present inside the polling stations at the closing time will be allowed to cast their votes.

He said that results of voting would be displayed at the polling stations soon after the counting.

As many as 80 million voters are eligible to vote.

Officials said that turnout was poor in the initial hours, due mainly to fears of terror attacks but it was picking up in the afternoon and long queues were witnessed outside polling stations.

According to a pre-poll survey by IANS among experts in Islamabad and Rawalpindi, the turnout was expected to be over 30 percent.

The turnout was more than 30 percent in the twin cities in the first five hours of polling at six polling stations visited by IANS correspondents.

However, many people had to return as their names were missing from the electoral lists.

“I went for voting in my area but was told by the polling staff that my name is not in the list,” renowned social worker Abdul Sattar Edhi told IANS.

He however said his organisation had not received any report of violence till one in the afternoon. “Thank god, everything is fine and my offices throughout the country have not received any report on violence or mishap,” Edhi said.

In Rawalpindi, people were overwhelmingly voting for the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif followed by Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) of Benazir Bhutto who was assassinated after an election rally in the city on Dec 27.

Political analysts and diplomats are predicting a hung 269-member National Assembly with the PPP and the PML-N expected to finish on top.

The election campaign took a bloody turn when Islamist radicals assassinated former prime minister Bhutto after a public rally at Rawalpindi near here.

At least 250 people have also been killed since November in the run-up to the balloting, which many fear may be rigged.

The start of voting was delayed at some polling stations because the polling staff did not reach there on time, officials said here.

About 81,000 soldiers have been deployed to guard over 64,000 polling stations around the country.

The election was originally scheduled for Jan 8 but was put off to Feb 18 after Bhutto’s assassination sparked violent protests by her supporters and a call for boycott of the polls by the All Parties Democratic Movement (APDM) alliance that draws its strength mainly from the Jamaat-i-Islami and some nationalist parties of Balochistan.

Both Bhutto and Sharif returned to Pakistan last year after years in self-imposed exile to take part in the polls, which President Pervez Musharraf has described as the “mother of all elections”.

Sharif, however, has been barred from contesting the polls. After his charismatic wife’s death, Bhutto’s husband Asif Ali Zardari is leading the PPP.

Most analysts think the PPP will sweep its traditional power base of rural Sindh and do better than in the controversial 2002 election that cemented Musharraf’s rule.

The PPP is also expected to fare well in the provinces - Balochistan, Punjab, North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and Sindh, which together account for 571 provincial seats.

The most likely loser in Monday’s test of strength is expected to be the pro-Musharraf Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid-e-Azam (PML-Q).

Musharraf, increasingly under attack, has dismissed predictions of a sweep by PPP and Sharif’s party.

The decisive battle is being fought in the most populous province of Punjab, which has 148 seats in the National Assembly and where a resurgent PML-N and PPP will vie to sweep maximum seats.

Sindh, where PML-N-ally Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM) is likely to retain its dominance in the urban centres of Karachi and Hyderabad, has 61 general seats in the National Assembly.

The NWFP elects 35 MPs and Balochistan, Pakistan’s biggest province, 14.

Analysts also believe that humiliation awaits a now-divided Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) alliance of Islamist parties, which swept the NWFP and Balochistan in 2002 because of an anti-American wave after the US invasion of Afghanistan and due to Musharraf’s policy of sidelining the mainstream PPP and PML-N.

The Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) has 12 seats, most of whose winners are likely to join the opposition ranks because of the prevailing anti-regime sentiment there due to the so-called war on terror.

A total of 221 reserved seats for women and non-Muslim minority communities in the National Assembly and the provincial assemblies will be allocated to political parties in proportion to the general seats they win in each chamber.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Posted in South Asia |