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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.
Ishaq Khan and the caretaker government of Prime Minister Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi portrayed Ms. Bhutto as an enemy of Islam, a traitor who sold state secrets to neighboring India and an American puppet.
Their actions seemed to cast her as the victim of "kangaroo courts," halted her declining popularity and helped galvanize her party.
But with 95 of the 214 races declared, the right-wing Islamic Democratic Alliance won 51 seats and Ms. Bhutto's populist, center-left Pakistan People's Party and its allies won 19. The rest went to smaller parties and independent candidates.
Unofficial reports indicated her party trailing badly in all four provinces.
Jatoi and two leaders of the Islamic Democratic Alliance -- Nawaz Sharif and Mohammad Khan Junejo -- won their races.
Hours before results began coming in, Ms. Bhutto predicted her party would take 120 seats.
Before voting, she visited her father's grave. Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was overthrown in a bloodless coup in 1977 and was hanged two years later.
Ms. Bhutto repeatedly compared her unceremonious dismissal to his ouster.
She complained that ballot boxes were stuffed and said she would meet party leaders this week to decide whether to call street demonstrations or boycott Parliament.
Jatoi, in a broadcast announcement before results were announced, warned that anyone instigating trouble would be "dealt with a stern hand."
Ms. Bhutto's husband, Asif Ali Zardari, also ran for two seats and she said he lost both races.
Yesterday's election was the fifth
since Pakistan was created as a homeland for Moslems in the 1947 partition that ended British colonial rule of the Indian subcontinent.
Nearly 100,000 soldiers, paramilitary troops and police patrolled the most volatile areas yesterday to prevent violence.
The People's Party and three smaller allied parties were pitted against the Islamic Democratic Alliance, a loose-knit coalition of 18 parties united by their dislike for Ms. Bhutto but strained by individual ambitions.
The Western-educated Ms. Bhutto became the first woman leader of a modern Moslem nation in December 1988 following the first free elections in Pakistan after a decade of military rule.
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