Islamabad, Feb 18 (UNI) At least eleven people were killed as an estimated 35 per cent of the voters in Pakistan today exercised their franchise in the general elections, held under the shadow of suicide bombings and rigging fears.
Polling was largely incident-free save clashes between supporters of rival political parties at some places in Punjab, Sindh and the restive North West Frontier Province (NWFP). Reports said at least seven people were killed in Punjab, three in Sindh and one in NWFP.
Election Commission sources said an estimated 35 per cent voter turnout was recorded.
Violence-wary voters preferred to stay away from the polls following a bloody election campaign ravaged by a spate of suicide attacks including the assassination of former Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto which led to the deferment of the polls, originally slated for January 8.
Three blasts occurred in the Swat Valley but there were no reports of any casualty. A blast rocked a polling station in Khar at Bajaur Agency in the restive northwestern tribal area bordering Afghanistan.
After casting his vote in Rawalpindi, Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf told reporters that he was committed to the ''politics of reconciliation''. ''We must come out of this confrontationalist approach and get into a conciliatory mode. I myself will remain committed to politics of reconciliation with everyone,'' he said.
The election is being seen as a litmus test for the beleaguered president with the possibility of the polls returning a ''hostile parliament'' which could impeach him from office.
Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Justice (retd) Qazi Muhammad Farooq expressed satisfaction over the polling.
The polls failed to evoke enthusiasm in the people with many Pakistanis, disillusioned with ''corrupt politicians'', violence and rigging allegations, making a conscious decision to not participate in the electoral process.
Polling in the NWFP and the garrison town of Rawalpindi was conspicuous by the lack of response from the voters.
Karachi witnessed a better voter turnout because of the presence of the Muhajir Quami Movement (MQM) in the poll arena.
With the international community closely scrutinising the electoral process in Pakistan, election observers from the US and European countries visited various polling stations in the federal capital and the garrison town of Rawalpindi.
According to analysts, with none of the the main parties -- the PPP, the Pakistan Muslim League (Q) and Nawaz Sharif's PML(N) expected to secure a majority, a coalition between two of the three is likely.
An alliance between the PPP and the PML(N) would spell trouble for President Musharraf with former premier Nawaz Sharif intent on ousting him from office.
The President has rejected allegations of rigging and repeatedly emphasised that the polls would be free and fair.
On the eve of elections yesterday, PPP co-chairperson Asif Ali Zardari struck a conciliatory note, saying his party would form a broad-based government if it came to power.
Although the sympathy vote is likely following Benazir Bhutto's assassination in December, the PPP is not likely to win a majority in the 272-seat national assembly.
An unprecedented security cover enveloped Pakistan with more than 80,000 personnel of the armed forces deployed across the country to help the civil administration and the police in maintaining law and order.
More than 81 million voters were eligible to exercise their franchise to decide the fate of more than 7200 candidates in the fray for 269 seats of the National Assembly, out of 272, and 570 seats of the provincial assemblies.
UNI XC/RR AT GC1916