- The Washington Times - Monday, February 18, 2008

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Early unofficial results from today’s national elections showed the two major opposition parties running neck and neck, far ahead of the governing party loyal to President Pervez Musharraf.

Results coming in from 60 National Assembly constituencies across the country showed the candidates of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz leading in 21 constituencies apiece, while candidates of the pro-Musharraf faction of the Pakistan Muslim League, the PML-Q, were leading in just six constituencies, as were independents.

The smaller Awami National Party, based mainly in the turbulent North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and Baluchistan, was leading in five constituencies, while a smaller faction of the Pakistan Muslim League, the PML-F, was leading in one.

The two opposition parties have discussed the possibility of forming a coalition. If the early voting pattern holds up, they would be close to the two-thirds majority needed to amend the constitution and reduce Mr. Musharraf’s powers.

The PPP is headed by Asif Ali Zardari, the widower of assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, while the PML-N is led by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, both bitter opponents of the president.

The PML-Q is led by the former chief minister of the Punjab, Pervez Elahi, a staunch supporter of the president.

Earlier in the day, Mr. Musharraf told reporters after casting his ballot at a polling station in Rawalpindi: “I will work with whichever party wins.”

“The whole world has turned its attention to Pakistan,” he said in the local Urdu language. “Let us show them that we are capable of holding fair elections and that we can accept the election results, whatever they are.”

The turnout was patchy, with just 20 percent to 30 percent of voters leaving their homes in constituencies where scores of people have been killed in bomb attacks or other forms of violence in the run-up to the elections or where violence erupted after the balloting began.

In the calmer areas, including Islamabad, the turnout was estimated to be 40 percent to 50 percent.

Of the 272 National Assembly seats being contested, voting was postponed in five constituencies where candidates were killed in pre-election violence. One candidate from a constituency in Punjab was shot dead by unknown gunmen on Sunday night as he left his election office.

Violence also erupted in several areas after the balloting started, and at least 14 persons were reported to have been killed, but official figures were not immediately available.

Simultaneously, elections also were being held for 577 seats to the four provincial assemblies, including Punjab, Sindh, the NWFP and Baluchistan.

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