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Crucial Elections in Pakistan on Monday


Voters in Pakistan will go to the polls Monday in one of the most crucial elections in the nation's history. Nearly 400,000 police and 80,000 troops are providing security. VOA Correspondent Meredith Buel reports from Islamabad the vote is accompanied by rising violence and concerns by opposition parties that the election will be rigged.

Officials in Pakistan say 60,000 polling stations across the country are ready to open and more than 80 million people are eligible to participate.

Voters will be electing members to the four provincial assemblies and the lower house of parliament.

The elections are considered crucial to restoring democracy to Pakistan following eight years of military rule under President Pervez Musharraf.

Opposition parties are accusing supporters of Mr. Musharraf of trying to rig the elections.

On the eve of the election, Information Minister Nisar Memon rejected those charges, saying all voters are strongly encouraged to come to the polls and the vote counting will be transparent.

"We do hope that there will be complete, free, fair and peaceful election. But certainly the observers are there, the cameras are there, the eyes are there, the pens are there, the minds are there," said Memon. "I am sure they will make sure that no one who wants to [negatively] affect these elections will be able to succeed in this."

More than 80,000 soldiers and nearly 400,000 police and paramilitary forces are on alert to provide security for the polls.

The campaign has been overshadowed by security fears, following the assassination of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto in a gun and suicide-bomb attack last December.

Late Saturday, a suicide bombing following an opposition rally near the border with Afghanistan killed dozens of people and wounded many more.

The government says it has issued visas for more than one-thousand election observers and foreign journalists to cover the vote.

Several American lawmakers plan to observe the elections, including Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, who is the co-chair of the Pakistan caucus in the House of Representatives.

"All of the world's eyes are on Pakistan. As I traveled from the United States it was clear, Pakistan's election tomorrow is not an isolated election. It really is being viewed as an ultimate symbol of, if you will, the ability to moderate, the ability to reconcile, being the charge of the day," she said.

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.

Early results are expected late Monday, but final official figures may not be available for several days.

In recent decades, turnout has been modest, running about 40 percent in the last national elections in 2002.