Bhutto sympathy vote seen key to Pakistan election
PAKISTAN: The strength of a sympathy vote for assassinated Pakistani
opposition leader Benazir Bhutto in the country’s biggest province is
likely to determine the result of a general election on Feb. 18.
The vote could seal the fate of President Pervez Musharraf, even
though it is not a presidential election, with opponents calling for the
increasingly unpopular leader to step down.
“Certainly there’s a sympathy vote,” said Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani, a
vice chairman of Bhutto’s party standing in Punjab province, where half
the country’s 160 million people live and half of its members of
parliament will be elected.
“If there’s a free, fair and transparent election the PPP will be
number one,” Gilani said at his house in the city of Multan, while aides
bustled about in the gloom of a power cut.
Months of political turmoil and militant violence have raised worries
about the stability for the nuclear-armed U.S. ally.
Fear of violence has stifled election campaigning, especially after
Bhutto was killed on Dec. 27 in an attack the government blamed on
militants, and is also expected to hurt turnout in the election for a
National Assembly and four provincial assemblies.
A suicide bomb attack on Saturday at a rally by an ethnic Pashtun
nationalist party opposed to Musharraf killed at least 16 people.
Opposition parties have also complained of rigging in favour of
The main challengers to the pro-Musharraf Pakistan Muslim League (PML)
are Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the party of Nawaz Sharif,
the prime minister Musharraf ousted in a coup in 1999. Punjab is their
“She was very brave and gave Musharraf a tough time, which nobody
else has dared to do. People should vote for her party,” Punjab labourer
Jumma Khan said of Bhutto. Multan, Sunday, Reuters