Pakistan votes for new parliament

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Monday, February 18, 2008

In a delayed poll the Pakistani vote for a new parliament today. The election was originally scheduled for January 8, but the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto in Rawalpindi on December 27, 2007 forced a delay.

The elections had a slow start at 8 a.m. (0300 GMT), as fears of violence kept many voters away. To enforce security, the Pakistani police is backed up by some 80,000 troops. BBC's Chris Morris says 80 million people are eligible to vote, but many are expected to stay at home, largely because of fears about security. Authorities reported at least five explosions that had taken place on election day, all but one of which occurred near a polling place.

The two most important opposition parties, the Pakistan People's Party and the Pakistan Muslim League, say that allies of current president Pervez Musharraf plan a massive fraud on the election. "Whether he will be able to do the Election Day rigging or not remains to be seen," said Ahmed Bilal Mehboob, director of the Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency. "But the signs are that the government is positioning itself to manipulate the elections." The authorities have repeatedly claimed that the elections will be free and fair, although President Musharraf has warned against street protests.

If the opposition parties gain a two-thirds majority in Parliament, they could then take steps to impeach the President. This possibility of impeachment has led some political analysts, like Talat Masood, to describe the election as "a referendum for or against [Musharraf]."

"I think we have reached the breaking point where if we don't band together, we will lose this great nation which we call Pakistan," says Ms Bhutto's widower and successor as party leader, Asif Ali Zardari.

This story has updates
See Pakistan peoples party winning elections for Pakistan's national assembly according to early results