Pakistan Opposition Ahead in Unofficial Results
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
The ballots are being counted in Pakistan after today's parliamentary elections. The vote finally went ahead after being delayed by the death of Benazir Bhutto late last year and after months of political violence. President Pervez Musharraf is presenting the elections as a key step in the transition to democracy. His critics are skeptical.
NPR's Philip Reeves spent some time with poll workers in the city of Lahore, and he has this report on today's events.
Unidentified Man: (Speaking in foreign language)
PHILIP REEVES: They sealed up the ballot boxes with an air of relief. The large-scale violence many feared did not happen. When the day began, the mood on the streets of Lahore was nervous. As it ended, the atmosphere was festive with opposition party workers celebrating victory even before the results were out.
(Soundbite of people cheering)
REEVES: Musharraf cast his vote in Rawalpindi. This is the city where Benazir Bhutto was assassinated. Afterwards, he called for unity.
President PERVEZ MUSHARRAF (Pakistan): As far as I'm concerned, I strongly believe that this politics of confrontation must give way to politics of reconciliation. Not in anyone's personal interest, in the interest of Pakistan. We must come out of this confrontationist approach and get into a conciliatory mode.
REEVES: Fears of violence kept many away. Only about one-third of the voters on the list of this polling station cast ballots. This man, Wush Tabah(ph), says none of the women in his household would vote.
Mr. WUSH TABAH (Pakistani Voter): (Through translator) Obviously because of the security reasons, it's not good for women to come out in the streets like this. It's better if they stay indoor.
REEVES: But Shimona Ashad(ph), a mother of eight, turned up. She felt it was important to register her opposition to Musharraf by voting for his opponents.
Ms. SHIMONA ASHAD (Pakistani Voter): (Through translator) We have not been getting enough water. There's shortage of gas. If you have children, and if you have shortage of gas, how can you feed them?
REEVES: In Lahore, Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party made a big effort to get the vote out. On this street, at least 23 wheeled rickshaws covered in party flags wait to give supporters a lift to the polling stations.
Mr. MUHHAMAD ASHAR(ph) (Bhutto Supporter): (Speaking in foreign language)
REEVES: Benazir Bhutto's name lives on, says a man called Muhammad Ashar. He's sure the Pakistan People's Party, the PPP, now led by Bhutto's husband Asif Ali Zardari, will emerge the winner as the pre-election polls predicted.
Attention is now focused on what happens next. If the party that support Musharraf wins, there'll be allegations of rigging and probably violence. PPP officials are already making accusations of vote tampering by the government. The key issue is whether Pakistan's new parliament will be in a position to challenge President Musharraf, and even push for his removal, or will its new leaders decide to cooperate with him, or will parliament be hung allowing Musharraf to divide and rule. It's too soon to say.
Philip Reeves, NPR News, Lahore.