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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Dismal Turnout Marks Pakistan Poll

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Counting began in Pakistan on Monday after what witnesses said was a dismal turnout in voting for national and provincial assemblies.


Many of Pakistan's 56.5 million eligible voters seemed to have stayed away, either because of the Moslem fasting month of Ramadan or because they distrusted current political leaders.


There were few reports of violence at polling stations, guarded by 250,000 troops and monitored by observers from the United States, European Union, the Commonwealth and South Asia, as well as the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.


But a polling agent of the ethnic Mohajir National Movement, or MQM, died after being kidnapped and tortured in Karachi, where at least five people were wounded overnight and on Monday.


Nawaz Sharif, who served as prime minister from 1990 to 1993, is widely tipped to become the next prime minister. But if the turnout proves as low as many believe, it may be hard for any new government to claim a credible popular mandate, threatening Pakistan with further political instability.


First results are expected by about 10 p.m. local time with the election outcome likely to be clear by 2 a.m. or 3 a.m.


President Farooq Leghari called national and provincial assembly elections, being held on the same day for the first time, after dismissing Benazir Bhutto as prime minister on charges of corruption and misrule on Nov. 5.


Sharif, who is Bhutto's main rival, said he was confident of a majority in the National Assembly, or lower house of parliament.


"The country needs a strong and stable government," he said at his home in Lahore before casting his vote.


He promised not to seek revenge on Bhutto for alleged victimization of his Pakistan Moslem League, or PML, while she was in power and said he would not put her on trial.


"We are not going to indulge in any politics of revenge," he said. "It will be clean, good politics and we'll try to seek her cooperation to take the country forward."


Bhutto, who went to vote at 8 a.m. in a primary school in her village of Naudero, in Sindh province, was visibly surprised to find that she was the first to cast a ballot there.


"People are voting for the arrow because they want stability, they want democracy," she said, referring to the election symbol of her Pakistan People's Party, or PPP.


Ghinwa Bhutto, Lebanese-born widow of Benazir's slain brother Murtaza and now leader of the PPP faction he founded, was also the first person to vote in her Larkana constituency.


Pakistan's former cricket captain-turned-politician Imran Khan, who has never voted in a Pakistani election, again failed to vote because his fledgling Tehrik-i-Insaaf, or Justice Movement, had been unable to field a candidate in Mianwali, where he is registered.


A spokesman for Tehrik-i-Insaaf said it would be happy with a tenth of the vote. "If we get 10 percent of the votes, we will consider that a success," Hasan Rashid told reporters in Lahore.


Leghari pledged a swift transfer of power to a new government and denied charges by Bhutto, a former ally and now a bitter foe, that he planned to rig voting in 65 constituencies.


"There will be no delay in the transfer of power even by a single day," Leghari said. "There should be no confusion."


State radio quoted him as saying the National Assembly would be called to elect a new prime minister after the Election Commission notifies official election results in mid-February.


In Karachi, Baba Ghori, a spokesman for the MQM's London-based leader Altaf Hussain, complained that voters were being intimidated by militants of the rival MQM-Haqiqi faction.


A spokesman for the MQM-Haqiqi later announced that the party was boycotting the last hour of voting to protest at alleged harassment by its mainstream MQM rivals.