Poll-watchers say Bhutto's allegation of rigged election cannot be proved

October 27, 1990|By Robert Benjamin | Robert Benjamin,Sun Staff Correspondent

KARACHI, Pakistan -- An international team of poll-watchers said yesterday it found serious irregularities in Wednesday's national election but nothing to warrant Benazir Bhutto's charge that the vote was massively rigged against her party.

"We have not found evidence that there were irregularities to the degree that it would have altered the outcome in a very significant way," Kenneth Wollack, one of the election-monitoring team's leaders, said in presenting the group's preliminary report.

Ms. Bhutto, who was ousted as prime minister in August and whose party lost by a huge margin in Wednesday's voting, charged even as the votes were being tallied that the election had been stolen.

She alleged that her party's polling agents were expelled from voting sites in many areas and that ballot boxes then were switched.

Her claim was lent credence by striking discrepancies at some polling sites between observed low voter turnout and the much larger official vote totals announced later.

The independent poll-watchers group said it did not observe the violations alleged by Ms. Bhutto. But within the next month the team intends to do a statistical analysis aimed at sorting out her claims.

One of the group's 40 members said that this analysis probably will show suspiciously high increases in both voter registration and voter turnout in many areas where Ms. Bhutto's opponents prevailed.

In one electoral district in Karachi, for instance, the losing candidate from Ms. Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party claimed that the official vote tallies showed that almost 64 percent of all registered voters voted -- compared to just 42 percent in the same district in Pakistan's last national election in 1988.

In 27 of that district's 134 polling sites, the official vote total showed that the turnout actually reached 100 percent, said Sadar Akhtar Ali Baluch, the losing candidate.

Pakistani election authorities have not yet released an officia turnout figure. A high national turnout would not only go against widespread observations but also against the country's historical trend: Over four previous national elections, turnout has been steadily falling from 67 percent in 1970 to about 43 percent in 1988.

Even before Wednesday's vote, the degree of fairness of th election had been a key issue in Pakistan's relationship with the United States, with some U.S. senators threatening a permanent cutoff of aid if the vote were rigged. All U.S. aid to Pakistan was suspended earlier this month when President Bush declined to certify to Congress that Pakistan does not possess a nuclear device.

In visiting about 500 of Pakistan's more than 30,000 polling places Wednesday, the vote-watching team did note serious Election Day problems, including killings, armed attacks and kidnappings.

It noted that Ms. Bhutto's opponents in the caretaker government appointed to replace hers used "the perquisites of incumbency" to their full advantage, particularly the "selective filing" of charges before special tribunals against Ms. Bhutto, her husband and several of her ministers.

Moreover, the team said, Pakistan's state media did not provide much balanced coverage of the campaign.

Nevertheless, the team concluded: "The elections, as we observed them at the local level, were generally open, orderly and well-administered."

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