Mandate against Musharraf: PPP, PML-N hold key in hung house

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Islamabad, Feb 19 (UNI) In a vote against President Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan returned a Parliament hostile to him with the PPP and the PML-N, the dictator's bitter rivals, set to gain control of a hung House.

Riding on a sympathy wave following the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, the Pakistan People's Party had bagged 85 seats to emerge as the single largest party in the national assembly.

The Nawaz Sharif-led PML-N was coming second with 64 seats while the PML-Q or the King's party, loyal to the President, was a distant third with 36 seats.

President Musharraf's worst fears were realised with the PPP and the PML-N, the main political forces ranged against him, surging ahead in the polls. However, neither of them was expected to gain an absolute majority, making the formation of a coalition government inevitable.

The 64-year-old former Army General faces possible impeachment if the new government is formed under the banner of Mr Sharif, who was ousted by Gen Musharraf in a bloodless coup in October 1999. Striking a conciliatory note after casting his vote yesterday, President Musharraf had said he was ready to work with any party and called for ''politics of reconciliation''.

Of the 250 results declared so far out of 269 for which polling was held, the MQM had 19, ANP 10, MMA 2, PML-F 4, NPP 2, BNP-A 1 and PPP-S 1. Independent candidates bagged 26 seats.

The Election Commission (EC) would announce the complete official results of the general elections this week and issue the notification on February 21 or 22, paving the way for the formation of the new government before March one, Geo TV reported, quoting EC sources.

Many stalwarts crashed to the ground with two PML-Q prime ministerial candidates-- PML-Q chief Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain and Punjab Chief Minister Chaudhry Pervez Elahi-- losing from their respective constituencies.

Other prominent leaders who were defeated included former Railway Minister Sheikh Rashid, former National Assembly Speaker Chaudhry Amir Hussain, former Foreign Minister Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri and MMA chief Maulana Fazlur Rahman.

Elections were held for 269 of the 272 seats in the National Assembly yesterday.

Another 70 seats in the 342-member strong National Assembly are reserved for non-Muslims (10) and women (60), which are allocated to parties according to the votes they poll.

Polls were also simultaneously held for the four provincial assemblies of Punjab, Sindh, Balochistan and North West Frontier Province.

Benazir's party won the maximum 65 seats in its stronghold of Sindh. The party got 76 seats in Punjab, seven in Balochistan and 15 in NWFP.

As expected, the PML-N got the highest 100 seats in its citadel of Punjab and five in NWFP. The party is yet to win a seat in Sindh and Balochistan.

The PML-Q, which probably paid for its proximity to the beleaguered former military ruler, was doing comparatively better in provinces having won 64 seats in Punjab, nine in Sindh, 17 in Balochistan and six in NWFP.

The MQM, which might play a crucial role in government formation with no party getting an absolute majority, has won 38 seats in Sindh but was yet to register a win in the other provinces.

The ANP has won the highest 29 seats in NWFP while the party got two seats in Sindh and one in Balochistan.

The MMA got six seats in Balochistan, eight in NWFP and two in Punjab.

A low voter turnout of 35 per cent was recorded in polling yesterday amid heightened fears of violence. At least eleven people were killed in sporadic poll-related violence. Counting for the elections began nearly as soon polling closed at 1700 hrs.

President Musharraf had expressed satisfaction that the polls were completed in a ''free, fair and transparent'' manner as ''promised'' by him.

MQM chief Altaf Hussain expressed his willingness to have a dialogue with either of the two main opposition parties to form a coalition government.

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