Physical Abuse, Intimidation Force Pakistanis To Vote For Musharraf:
ISLAMABAD, May 1 (News Agencies) - Pakistani President General Pervez
Musharraf's referendum to extend his tenure as president was marred by
blatant ballot rigging and generally low turnout, an independent rights
group said Wednesday, May 1.
In the first independent assessment of Tuesday's referendum, the Human
Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) said gross irregularities, including
physical abuse and intimidation were seen across the country, Agence
France-Presse (AFP) reported.
"The HRCP regrets that the irregularities witnessed during [Tuesday's]
referendum exceeded its worst fears," commission chairman Afrasiab Khattak
said in a statement.
He said "apart from anything else, the manner in which the people were
hustled into voting and the flagrant abuse of election procedures degraded
the very concept of democratic choice."
"The people were given an experience that casts ominous shadows on their
path to democratic revival."
Musharraf, who staged a bloodless coup in 1999 and named himself president
in June 2001, is hoping to use the vote to legitimize his position ahead
of general elections scheduled for October 2002.
Ballots were still being counted Wednesday morning, but initial results,
according to the state-run media, showed Musharraf had won more than 95
percent of the vote.
Khattak said polling staff, municipal councilors and the Electoral
Commission's so-called neutral observers "stamped ballots themselves" in
some polling stations.
At one station the "presiding officer was beaten up for resisting the
stuffing of the ballot boxes," and reports of scuffles between councilors
and polling staff were received from several towns.
"Voters marshaled by local councilors enjoyed the freedom to vote as many
times as they wished," Khattak said, basing his information on reports
from HRCP volunteers who monitored the referendum.
"The polling stations were arranged in clusters obviously to facilitate
Khattak said "the voluntary turnout was very low" and most people who
stamped the ballot were "captive voters" like prisoners and state
employees who were obliged to participate. Women stayed away "in force".
Journalists who visited polling stations Tuesday reported similar
incidents, although the military regime has dismissed all claims of
irregularities and hailed the ballot as a success.
Pakistan's Supreme Court validated the referendum last week, but it has
provoked sustained howls of protest from opposition parties who say the
exercise was unconstitutional and rigged from the outset.
The lack of electoral rolls exposed the poll to fraud, and many people
were seen openly queuing up time and again, with one under-age voter
gleefully admitting to casting multiple votes "for fun".
An opposition boycott appeared to have some effect, although it was
unclear whether the empty polling stations were more a sign of Pakistan's
traditionally apathetic electorate.
Musharraf won more than 95 percent of the vote in the four provinces of
Punjab, Sindh, Baluchistan and NWFP (Northwest Frontier Province).
In the largest Pakistani city of Karachi, election commission results
showed Musharraf had won 215,789 votes with 3,275 against, out of 552
In the capital Islamabad, the first major city to return its results, 92
percent of 211,587 votes cast were in Musharraf's favor, according to
Votes were tallied throughout the night but a final national outcome was
not expected until later Wednesday or possibly Thursday, May 2.
Anti-Musharraf party leaders were quick to claim that the turnout, seen as
the key test of Musharraf's grassroots support, was as low as five
"Today the people of Pakistan have given their verdict against General
Musharraf," said Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan, chief of the 15-party Alliance
for the Restoration of Democracy, claiming the boycott had succeeded.
"We demand he should immediately step down and let there be an interim
civilian set-up to run the affairs of the country till October elections."
Government workers were obliged to cast their vote but many polling
stations were empty. Pakistanis still argue over the response to the last
presidential referendum in 1984, with claims ranging from less than 10
percent to more than 50 percent.
Raza Rabbani, acting secretary general of former prime minister Benazir
Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party (PPP), said no more than five percent of
voters showed up for Tuesday's ballot.
"I congratulate to the people of Pakistan on behalf of Benazir Bhutto and
other party leaders for completely rejecting the referendum and responding
to the boycott call," he said.
"Musharraf has no moral and political authority to continue and he should
step down immediately."
Information Minister Nisar Memon described the opposition's claims as
"hilarious", adding he expected a turnout of double the 16 percent of
votes gained by the government in 1997 general elections.
"Unofficial sources indicate it will be much more than that and I would
not be surprised if it is twice this size," he said.
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