Political figures who play a crucial role in Monday’s elections.
|Pakistanis are electing a new parliament and four provincial assemblies [AFP]|
Counting of votes has got under way in Pakistan after elections marked by low turnout and scattered violence.
Poll officials said partial results would be available by Monday night for the elections to a new national assembly and four provincial assemblies.
However, the final official count will be out only by Wednesday.
Al Jazeera’s correspondent quoted an interior ministry spokesman as saying that at least 19 were killed and another 100 wounded during the day.
Precise turnout figures were not available but reports from our correspondents and news agencies suggested that a majority of the 81 million registered voters stayed home.
Sarwar Bari, the head of Free and Fair Elections Network, which had 20,000 observers, said initial reports from the field indicated turnout was around 35 per cent.
Ayaz Baig, the election commissioner for Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous province, estimated turnout in his area at 30 per cent to 40 per cent – slightly lower than in the 2002 elections.
In Baluchistan province, turnout was estimated at about 35 per cent, Sono Khan Baluch, an election official, said.
Al Jazeera’s Kamal Hyder said from Lahore that while many people stayed away due to fears over security, especially in urban areas, there was relative calm in the countryside.
“It is the fate of the Pakistan People’s Party that it will win, and we will change the system after winning,” Asif Ali Zardari, leader of the PPP and widower of Benazir Bhutto, the assassinated former prime minister, said after casting his vote in his hometown of Nawab Shah in Sindh.
Shahbaz Sharif, president of his brother Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) , said: “People came out today and they voted for us. But we are hearing that their votes will be stolen after darkness, and we will not tolerate it.
“Those who want to rob our votes should listen that we will not allow them to do it.”
|Pakistan vote: At a glance|
– Pakistan has 81 million registered voters, out of a population of 160 million people.
– Another 60 seats are reserved for women and 10 for religious minorities.
– More than 60,000 polling stations were set up across the country.
– Key issues include restoration of full civilian government, reinstatement of sacked judges, rising militancy, economy and high unemployment.
Pervez Musharraf, the Pakistani president and former army chief, promised to work with the new government regardless of who won the vote.
“I will say from my side, whichever political party will win, whoever will become prime minister and chief ministers, congratulations to them on my behalf. And I will give them full co-operation as president whatever is my role,” he said.
After voting at a polling station in the garrison city of Rawalpindi, Musharraf said: “We must come out of this confrontationalist approach and get into a conciliatory mode.”
Two public opinion surveys by US groups have suggested that if the elections are fair, the PPP would finish first, followed by Sharif’s party.
The pro-Musharraf party – the Pakistani Muslim League-Q, or PML-Q – trailed in third place.
But the PML-Q believes it will fare strongly in rural areas of Punjab.
Ahmed Quraishi, a political analyst, says the vote does not reflect a referendum on Musharraf’s rule.
“President Musharraf is an elected president for the next five years and was elected through a constitutional process,” he told Al Jazeera.
“It may have an effect on his future but he is the president for the next five years.”
More than 470,000 police and soldiers had been deployed across the country to provide protection from attacks by pro-Taliban fighters.
A bomb attack over the weekend in a town in the North West Frontier Province near the Afghan border killed 46 people.
But no major attacks were reported on Monday, although there was scattered violence between rival political factions.
At least 12 people were killed and dozens wounded since Sunday night in Punjab, including a provincial assembly candidate from Sharif’s opposition party, officials said.
Two people were killed and 10 injured in clashes between rival political groups in Sindh province, and another nine were hurt in Baluchistan province, officials said.
An alliance between the PPP and the PML-N would be the worst scenario for Musharraf.
Analysts say Musharraf is aiming for a coalition between the PPP and the PML-Q.
Farahana Ali, a political analyst, said a low turnout precipitated by security fears could favour Musharraf but that a grand coalition between the PPP and Sharif would be a disaster for him.
“However, it is worth remembering that political opponents in Pakistan are opportunists and I still think it is too early too predict what Zardari will do should the PPP come out on top,” she said.
|Voter turnout was low as the nation considers its political future [AFP]|