Bhutto Rally Draws Large Crowd In Final Rallies Of Pakistan Campaign
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) _ Populist leader Benazir Bhutto drew about 20,000 people to her final rally in the northwest frontier city of Peshawar today as parties ended campaigns for Pakistan’s Nov. 16 national elections.
In the eastern city of Lahore, her right-wing rivals of the Islamic Democratic Alliance scheduled a campaign finale later in the day.
At Peshawar’s Jinnah Park, Ms. Bhutto said her Pakistan People’s Party was a champion of workers and farmers while the nine-party alliance, which contains loyalists of late President Mohammed Zia ul-Haq, has ″become an opposition alliance against the People’s Party.″
As one of the only women in the election campaign, she alluded to Moslem fundamentalists who oppose the prospect of a woman leader.
″As a woman I am your sister. You are my force - your success is my success,″ she told the crowd, which had waited up to three hours for her 20- minute speech.
Election officials have ordered all campaigning to cease at midnight in order to establish calm. And the government said thousands of security forces had gone on alert to quell any political violence.
Federal and provincial authorities announced the mobilization of police, army and paramilitary forces to head off any trouble during the lengthy voting period, which ends with provincial assembly elections on Saturday.
At stake Wednesday are 217 elected seats in the National Assembly and on Saturday, 483 seats in the four provincial legislatures.
The party that takes the most National Assembly seats will have the first chance at forming a government.
No reliable polls have been taken during the campaign.
The election is seen mainly as a contest between Ms. Bhutto’s left-leaning party and Zia loyalists led by the Pakistan Muslim League of former Prime Minister Mohammad Khan Junejo and Punjab state chief minister Nawaz Sharif.
Ms. Bhutto is the daughter of former Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who Zia ousted in a 1977 coup and had hanged two years later for conspiracy to kill a political rival.
Zia died in an Aug. 17 plane crash that investigators said appeared to be sabotage. Also killed were the U.S. ambassador and 28 other people.
Wednesday’s vote is expected to be the first democratic election in the nation of 107 million people since the 1973 polls that swept the elder Bhutto to power. Bhutto was re-elected in 1977, but Zia nullified the results after the coup, saying the vote was rigged.
Despite their differences, the battle between the two largest parties has been more one of symbols than of issues.
Ms. Bhutto has abandoned her father’s disastrous economic policy of nationalizing industry and has pledged to continue close U.S. ties and support for Afghanistan’s anti-communist guerrillas. Zia loyalists also pledge support for the guerrillas and close U.S. ties.
Both sides favor Pakistan’s nuclear research program for peaceful purposes.
Army convoys began moving troops today around Islamabad, the capital, and adjacent Rawalpindi. However, officials said security forces would be most vigilant in the southern cities of Hyderabad and Karachi where nearly 300 people were killed in ethnic clashes with a political undertone in September.
Iftekhar Rashid, deputy police inspector-general for Sind province, said about 50,000 military and police personnel would be deployed in voting districts there, in addition to the Sindhi cities of Sukkur and Larkana.
Tension in the province has been mainly between Sindhi separatists and Indian Moslem immigrants known as Mohajirs.
Otherwise, the campaign has seen sporadic incidents of gunfire and rock- throwing but no episodes of major political violence.
Pakistan’s 48 million eligible voters, three-fourths of them illiterate, will be required to present a government identity card to cast their ballots. Officials say about 93 percent had been issued cards but Ms. Bhutto claimed the percentage was far less.
She has called on party supporters without cards to demonstrate at polling stations, but to remain peaceful.