Tuesday, February 19, 2008

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — The party of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf conceded today it was headed for huge losses, as ballot counting continued following yesterday’s parliamentary election.

A landslide of voter support for two main opposition parties also prompted renewed calls from the opposition for Mr. Musharraf, a crucial ally in the U.S. war on terror, to step down.

Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, head of Mr. Musharraf’s Pakistan Muslim League-Q party (PML-Q), told AP Television News, We accept the results with an open heart and will sit on opposition benches in the new parliament.

Early returns showed the PML-Q trailing a distant third behind the parties of former Prime Ministers Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto, who was slain Dec. 27.

The private Geo TV network said the two opposition parties so far have won 153 seats, more than half of the 272-seat National Assembly.

The PML-Q party was a distant third with 38 seats. A ream of party stalwarts and former Cabinet ministers lost their bids to remain in Parliament.

A two-thirds majority in Parliament would give the opposition the power to force from office Mr. Musharraf, who was elected in the fall by outgoing lawmakers to a new five-year term as president.

Mr. Sharif, who was ousted in a 1999 coup by Mr. Musharraf, stopped short of calling on Mr. Musharraf to step down.

However, he said Pakistani voters had given their verdict and proposed that opposition parties join forces to get rid of dictatorship, the Associated Press reported.

Final results are not expected until later today or tomorrow.

Turnout was low, with millions of voters staying home after a campaign bloodied by assassinations of leading candidates and massive suicide bombings targeting civilians.

Mr. Musharraf told reporters after casting his vote in Rawalpindi yesterday that he would work with whichever party wins.

The whole world has turned its attention to Pakistan. Let us show them that we are capable of holding fair elections, and that we can accept the election results, whatever they are, he said. Let us leave behind confrontational politics and adopt the politics of reconciliation.

Violence erupted in several areas after the balloting started yesterday, leaving at least 14 persons dead and several injured, according to local press reports. Official figures were not immediately available.

Asif Ali Zarari, Mrs. Bhutto’s widower and leader of the PPP, sounded a conciliatory note.

We have reached the point where if we don’t come together we will lose our country, he told the Urdu daily Aaj Kal.

He said he was ready to enter into discussions with other parties to form a government of national unity.

Altaf Hussain, who leads the Karachi-based Mutahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), said he was prepared to hold talks with both main opposition parties.

In the last parliament, the MQM was in alliance with the PML-Q to support pro-Musharraf legislation.

The turnout for the election was patchy, with only 20 percent to 30 percent of voters leaving their homes in constituencies where scores of people had 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 calmer areas, including Islamabad and Karachi, the turnout was estimated at 40 percent to 50 percent.

Vote counting was not expected to be complete until late today at the earliest with official results expected tomorrow.

Elections were also held for some 570 seats to the four provincial assemblies, Punjab, Sindh, the North West Frontier Province and Baluchistan.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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