ISLAMABAD, Pakistan--The political party of Benazir Bhutto '73 suffered a stunning defeat at the hands of right-wing foes in parliamentary elections yesterday, according to partial returns. The electoral rout was widely seen as a verdict on her dismissal as prime minister.
She refused to concede defeat late yesterday, and accused President Ghulam Ishaq Khan and the army-backed caretaker government of large-scale vote-rigging in what most analysts and opinion polls predicted would be a close contest.
"This election is a fraud," Ms. Bhutto said, fighting back tears.
Her opponents dismissed the charges.
"She's a sore loser," said Hussein Haqqani, a spokesperson for the caretaker government. "She's finding it hard to accept that she's no longer on the pedestal and that she is no longer the heroine of democracy. After a few days she'll have to accept it."
Ms. Bhutto herself ran for two seats. She overwhelmingly won reelection in Larkana in southern Sind Province but suffered a humiliating defeat in the northern city of Peshawar, losing by nearly 12,000 votes.
She faces trials before special tribunals on corruption charges and could be denied her seat and banished from politics for seven years if convicted.
A spokesperson for a 40-member group of international poll watchers refused comment on the election until the group assembled. Their assessment could affect hundreds of millions of dollars in vital U.S. economic and military aid.
"I'm angry and shocked at the way elections have been rigged," Ms. Bhutto, 37, told reporters in Larkana. "The president has made a mockery of these elections. It wasn't even subtle."
Ishaq Khan dismissed her government on August 6 after she held power 20 months. He accused her of heading the most corrupt and inept government in Pakistan's history.
Ms. Bhutto said yesterday, "Had the counting been done in front of polling agents, I would have accepted the results. But since the polling agents were not present and ballot boxes were stolen, I cannot accept these results."
She predicted "a witch hunt" against her and her supporters would follow.
At least nine people were killed and 66 injured in clashes between rival parties during the balloting, despite unprecedented security.
Election officials said turnout among the estimated 50 million eligible voters was unusually light--in many places less than 10 percent.
More than 1300 candidates vied for 217 seats in the National Assembly, the policy-making lower house of Parliament that will choose the next prime minister. Two independent candidates were elected unopposed. One race was postponed after a candidate was killed in campaign violence.