Pakistanis elected a new government today in the first...


ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Pakistanis elected a new government today in the first openly contested vote in 11 years that could send opposition leader Benazir Bhutto into office as the nation's first woman prime minister.

Bhutto, the daughter of executed prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, has attracted huge crowds in recent weeks in campaigning to reclaim the office taken from her father in a 1977 military coup.


After voting near her home in Larkana, about 500 miles south of the capital Islamabad, she visited the family cemetery, about 15 miles away and prayed at her father's grave. She displayed no emotion.

Hundreds of supporters mobbed her as she toured polling stations after the ceremony. In one village, scores of women in veils surrounded her and touched her face and kissed her.

Later, thousands stood outside her house chanting 'Victory, Victory,' and waving the green, black and red flags of her Pakistan People's Party, the main opposition party contesting the election.


The government's Election Commission reported a good turnout in most parts of the country during polling from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and said the voting had gone smoothly with no reports of violence or serious irregularities. First results were expected at around 2 p.m. EST with a trend forming at about 5 p.m. EST.

However, officials in the North West Frontier Province reported two bombing incidents, one at a police station and another on a canal bank in the border city of Peshawar, which left two people dead and several injured. In addition, minor clashes were reported at polling stations in the towns of Bannu and Dir.

On the eve of the elections, thousands of troops in full battle gear and armed police were deployed around polling stations to guard against disturbances.

Teams from several countries, including the United States and Britain, observed the polling.

'It's chaotic but it's working,' said one U.S. official.

Bhutto, asked how the voting was going, said: 'Overall it's going very well.' But she added, 'If you notice, there are hardly any women because of the identity card restrictions.'

Bhutto, 35, has charged that the ruling Islamic Democratic Alliance was trying to rig the election by refusing to give election identification cards to her supporters.


President Ghulam Ishaq Khan vowed in an election eve broadcast to abide by the constitution and 'honor the people's verdict' and expressed 'bright prospects' for democracy in Pakistan, which has been under military rule for more than two-thirds of its 41-year history.

The Harvard- and Oxford educated Bhutto has drawn huge crowds during the campaign, compared to candidates of the ruling right-wing IDA, the party of late President Mohammad Zia ul-Haq.

Zia died in an Aug. 17 plane crash that investigators say probably was caused by sabotage. He ruled for eight years as head of a military government before introducing limited democracy in 1985. He dissolved the National Assembly in May, dismissed Prime Minister Mohammad Khan Junejo, and called new elections.

More than 48 million voters were eligible to cast ballots for about 1,300 candidates vying for 207 National Assembly seats. Political analysts said no single party or grouping was likely to gain a majority in the voting.

The elections were the first in which competing political parties were allowed to participate since the widely disputed balloting of 1977, which gave victory to Bhutto's father.

He was overthrown in a coup two months later by Zia, then army chief of staff, and hanged in 1979 for the murder of a political opponent.


Khan, Zia's constitutional successor, will choose a prime minister from whichever party he believes is capable of governing the nation of 102 million. An electoral college then will vote for a new president.

Among the prime ministerial candidates in the IDA are Nawaz Sharif, 38, a businessman and chief minister of Punjab province, and Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi, 57, a wealthy landowner and former PPP leader.

In the southern port of Karachi, the carnival atmosphere that pervaded the country's largest city on the final campaign day Monday evaporated as thousands of army and navy forces were deployed in full battle gear.

Officials said more than 50,000 police and paramilitary troopers were deployed across Sind Province, a stronghold of support for the PPP and scene of widespread ethnic violence in recent months.

In the capital, in the northeastern city of Lahore, and in other urban centers, all police leave was cancelled and the army was placed on alert but not deployed.

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