Bhutto takes lead in Pakistan election: Fraud claim as both sides declare premature poll victory

NAWAZ SHARIF claimed early this morning that his conservative Pakistan Muslim League has defeated Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan Peoples' Party (PPP), based on his party's unofficial tally. But Ms Bhutto's party was slightly ahead, and insisted she had bested Mr Sharif.

Both candidates pounced on the slow read-out of votes to proclaim they had thrashed their rival and would become the next prime minister, to take office on 19 October.

With only 60 of the 217 national assembly seats officially counted, Ms Bhutto was in the lead with 27 seats, six seats ahead of the Muslim League. Mr Sharif was nevertheless celebrating victory in his native town of Lahore. 'A majority of the seats were won by the Pakistan Muslim League. We have won the elections,' he crowed. Mr Sharif bases his victory boast on a rough count taken by his party workers when votes were counted in 34,000 polling stations across the country.

In her ancestral home of Larkana, a normally loquacious and confident Ms Bhutto was less than jubilant. Even before first results were announced, her party issued a statement complaining of electoral fraud. 'It was clear that some of the presiding officers (at polling stations) were openly subverting the sanctity of the poll to the detriment of the Pakistan People's Party,' the statement read.

She refused to see the press and locked herself in with her closest advisers. She seemed worried by the surprising twist in developments. However, a PPP spokesman, Shafqat Mahmoud, eventually emerged from Ms Bhutto's inner sanctum to dispute Mr Sharif's victory claims. According to their rough count, it was Ms Bhutto who was heading for a clear majority.

Mr Sharif claims to have routed Ms Bhutto, his arch-enemy, in the crucial state of Punjab, where he calculates that his party won between 58 and 70 National Assembly seats. His advisers also claim to have made deep inroads in Ms Bhutto's home state of Sindh, long considered a family stronghold, as well as in Baluchistan and the North-west Frontier. But the PPP spokesman said: 'Mr Sharif is talking nonsense.'

Throughout the voting, army Jeeps mounted with machine-guns cruised by polling stations to prevent violence. Late forecasts had originally given Ms Bhutto's party a thin edge over Mr Sharif.

Past elections have often been bloody and crooked. But with the country's polling stations guarded by troops, the habitual gang warfare between the political parties has been absent. More than 60 people died in campaign shootings. But according to Maleeha Lodhi, editor of the daily News: 'These have been the most peaceful polls in the country's history.'

Most soldiers on election duty were dispatched to the southern state of Sindh, where the country's third largest party, the Mohajir Qaumi Movement, boycotted the polls. In Karachi, where the MQM is strongest, many polling stations were empty. From his London exile, the MQM party leader, Altaf Hussain, accused the army of harassing his supporters, mainly Muslim migrants from India.

Ms Bhutto cast her vote in Larkana, the rural home of the Bhutto dynasty in a women-only polling station. She stood out as the only unveiled woman in a sea of burkas, the traditional body- length veil worn by Muslim women. It illustrated how difficult her quest for political power has been in this male-dominated society, despite being the daughter and heir of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, one of Pakistan's most charismatic leaders, who was hanged in 1979 after a military takeover.

The first woman prime minister in the Muslim world, Ms Bhutto was elected in 1988 but dismissed after 20 months by the autocratic president, Mr Khan, on corruption charges never proven. 'People want to give me a second chance,' she insisted.

Mr Sharif voted in Lahore as hundreds of admirers showered him with rose petals. A rich industrialist, he none the less has managed to capture the votes of Pakistan's aspiring urban lower-middle classes, who are deeply Islamic and conservative.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine