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Pakistan Focuses on Vote Count Following Largely Peaceful Poll


Pakistanis are expressing relief that national elections were largely peaceful, but there is tension and skepticism about the vote counting process. VOA's Barry Newhouse reports from Islamabad, where election observers say they are waiting until Wednesday before determining if the vote was credible.

Pakistani media and some election observers said the turnout for Monday's vote appeared to be lower than it was in the 2002 elections, when 40 percent of the country's registered voters went to the polls.

Polling stations in remote, conservative areas in particular appeared to record low participation, especially among women.

But election observers were optimistic that following weeks of politically motivated bombings and assassinations, there were no major attacks and voting appeared to go smoothly.

"In Islamabad and in many parts of the country people were thankful that there were not any major security incidents. Some concerns about modest voter turnout and other issues, but on the whole we will reserve judgment on how well this went until we have a chance to talk to all of our colleagues in the delegations," said Brian Katulis, an American election observer who is part of the 20,000 person Free and Fair Elections group that monitored polling stations across the country.

He said the group plans to announce its judgment Wednesday, when the election commission is expected to release official results.

Election officials say it could take two days to tally votes from remote parts of the country, as well as those ballots cast by hundreds of thousands of soldiers and Pakistanis living overseas.

In the Pakistani election system, officials at each polling station count ballots in the presence of polling agents from various political parties, who certify the tally.

A Pakistani election observer with the Pakistan Human Rights Commission, Tahira Abdullah, says that in past elections the vote counts from individual polling stations have been accurate, but tampering has occurred when the ballots are sent to regional centers.

"The dangerous time is now because the polling agents have signed the envelopes, sealed them in cloth bags and put them into trucks and gone home," said Abdullah. "Those polling agents are not allowed to be present in the returning officer's office, and that is the flaw in the electoral system."

Pakistani news media are reporting preliminary vote counts recorded by individual polling stations, but the results are not considered official until announced by the election commission.

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