Polls Open for National Assembly Elections
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) _ Pakistanis started streaming to polling stations early Wednesday in the first open National Assembly elections since 1977 to determine the country’s next leader after a decade of strongman rule.
In a televised address Tuesday night, President Ghulam Ishaq Khan urged the 48 million voters to accept the outcome peacefully.
Ishaq Khan, who has served on an interim basis since President Mohammed Zia ul-Haq was killed in a plane crash three months ago, said his government had done its best to ensure a free and fair vote.
A bomb killed a man Tuesday in Rawalpindi and police in the northern city said another was found unexploded. No one claimed responsibility and officials would not speculate about whether the bombs were related to the election.
Gen. Zia ruled by martial law for eight years after seizing power in 1977 and did not allow political parties to run candidates in elections held after that. About 30 parties have entered Wednesday’s races for parliament seats.
Most are small or regional and the election is expected to be a contest between Benazir Bhutto, populist leader of the Pakistan People’s Party founded by her father, and the nine-party conservative Islamic Democratic Alliance involving many Zia loyalists.
Ms. Bhutto’s father, Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, was the man Zia overthrew in 1977. He was convicted of complicity in a murder plot and hanged in 1979.
Election officials delivered ballots, boxes and government stamps Tuesday to about 33,500 polling stations. Voters must present government-issued identity cards in order to cast ballots.
Soldiers in armored vehicles and sandbagged bunkers stood guard in Karachi and Hyderabad, southern cities where nearly 300 people were killed in ethnic riots two months ago.
Police and paramilitary forces checked cars for bombs and weapons.
Of the 217 National Assembly seats at stake in the election, 207 will be filled by Moslems and 10 will go to members chosen by non-Moslem voters. The other 20 seats are reserved for women and will be filled later by vote of the assembly.
Ishaq Khan will chose a member of the assembly, presumably the leader of the strongest party, to become prime minister and form a government.
On Saturday, voters will elect the 483 members of Pakistan’s four provincial assemblies.
Zia held national elections on a non-party basis in 1985 that were boycotted by the Bhutto party and other opposition groups. Last May, he dismissed Prime Minister Mohammed Khan Junejo and dissolved the National Assembly, alleging corruption and failure to implement Islamic law.
The general was killed Aug. 17, along with the U.S. ambassador and 28 other people, in the crash of a military transport plane. An initial report left open the possibility of sabotage but the cause of the crash has not been determined.
A 25-member international delegation sponsored by the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, an affiliate of the U.S. Democratic Party, is to monitor voting on an unofficial basis.
A report from the institute after a delegation visited Pakistan last month said a ″comprehensive framework for procedurally correct elections has been devised.″