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Election Count Begins in Pakistan 


Election officials are counting the votes in Pakistan after a key parliamentary election designed to restore democracy following eight years of military rule under President Pervez Musharraf. VOA Correspondent Meredith Buel spoke with voters and election observers in Islamabad.

At the Islamabad College for Boys there were no significant lines of voters, but election officials reported a turnout here of slightly less than 40 percent.

During discussions with Pakistanis after they left the polling station, most voters say they are supporting either former prime minister Nawaz Sharif or the Pakistan People's Party of slain opposition leader Benazir Bhutto. No one we spoke with said they voted for the PML-Q, the main party supporting President Musharraf.

Atiq Rahman says he voted for a candidate aligned with Mr. Sharif's PML-N party because he disagrees with President Musharraf's decision to have security forces storm the Red Mosque in Islamabad last July, a move that crushed a Taliban-style movement, but left more than 100 dead.

"I do not want PML-Q to be in the driving seat anymore," said Rahman. "I do not want Musharraf, President Musharraf, to be president. I do want someone else like PML-N."

Ali Mubarak also voted for a candidate backed by Mr. Sharif's party.

"Why? For the democracy, a stable democracy and a stable Pakistan," said Mubarak.

Mr. Musharraf's presidency is not being contested in this election, but if opposition parties win a two-thirds majority in parliament, they would have enough votes to impeach him.

Public-opinion surveys released before the election show Mr. Musharraf's popularity has plummeted during the past year, after he purged the judiciary and imposed six weeks of emergency rule.

Dr. Tariq Ali Khan says those moves prompted him to vote for the opposition.

"Particularly we are against the Pakistan Muslim League, Qaid-i-Azam League, because their politics are not basically in the interest of our country," he said. "They are supporting just one leader, General Pervez Musharraf. We are in favor of democracy. As you know there is no democracy in the presence of General Pervez Musharraf. Although he thinks that he is the elected president, we do not think so."

Among the several women voters we spoke with, all supported Ms. Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party.

Sanam Zulfiqar Khan says Ms. Bhutto's assassination was a personal tragedy for her, but the former prime minister's ideals live on through her party.

"The Pakistan People's Party is the most progressive and liberal party," said Khan. "It is the largest party. It is a national party and I think in terms of what it has to offer to the citizens of this nation is more than any other party so I have chosen to vote for it."

Glen Cowan is with the U.S. observer delegation and says he has monitored about 40 elections worldwide.

Cowan says at the polling places he visited in Pakistan the technical aspects of voting appeared to go smoothly, but he still has concerns.

"We remain concerned about a series of issues surrounding particularly the women's stations," said Cowan. "We are not entirely satisfied that the lists were sufficient in number to permit all Pakistanis who wanted to, to vote. Obviously we have to watch the vote count tonight and see that the vote count is done in a manner that actually tabulates the results that come from the polling stations."

The results of pre-election opinion polls reported that opposition parties would do significantly better in the vote than those supporting Mr. Musharraf.

Leaders of the opposition predict the results will be rigged, while President Musharraf says the counting will be free and fair.

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