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Tuesday, 30 April, 2002, 09:36 GMT 10:36 UK
Pakistan votes on Musharraf presidency
Lahore voters
There are few checks on voters raising fears of rigging
Pakistanis have started voting in a controversial referendum on whether to grant another five years in office to President Pervez Musharraf, who seized power in a bloodless coup in 1999.

Turnout has been patchy, with some polling booths reporting brisk voting while in other areas people appear to have observed an opposition call to boycott the referendum.

My vote has no value in this country and every ruler tries to use the people for his or her interest

Voter Gul Sher Khan

Opposition parties say the referendum is undemocratic and that Pakistan's president should be chosen in the normal way following parliamentary elections in October.

Efforts in the Supreme Court to stop the ballot failed.

"I am very confident," said General Musharraf as he cast his vote at a woman's university in Rawalpindi, accompanied by his wife, mother and other family members.

The BBC's Susannah Price, in Islamabad, says that many observers will be monitoring the turn-out, rather than the final result, as the true indication of the general's success.

General Musharraf's 1999 take-over was condemned internationally but his support for the US-led war on terrorism has muted criticism of his regime.

Ease of voting

Changes in voting rules - allowing people to cast their ballots without identity cards and abandoning the need for electoral registers - have heightened opposition fears of possible rigging.

General Pervez Musharrraf
Musharraf shows the indelible mark on his thumb after voting
In a televised address on the eve of polling, General Musharraf said he would accept the result, stressing that the referendum would be free, fair and transparent.

Our correspondent says the authorities in Pakistan are trying to make it as easy as possible to vote.

The number of polling stations has been almost doubled - some have been set up in work places - and buses have been made available for potential voters to go to polling stations.

Voters can cast their ballot anywhere provided they can show an identity card, driving licence or official letter, and electoral lists have been abolished, prompting concerns that some people may cast their ballot more than once.

But the election commissioner said everyone who voted would have their hand marked with indelible ink which would not fade for a week.

The BBC's Shahid Malik in Lahore said that many of the 4,000 polling stations set up there remained empty, with the only signs of activity seen at a government office building where dozens of employees were queuing to vote.

I and my friends have decided to vote for Musharraf because there is no corruption scandal against him, unlike our past rulers

Zafar Rizvi
Disillusionment with Pakistani politics kept some people away.

"My vote has no value in this country and every ruler tries to use the people for his or her interest," said cloth merchant Gul Sher Khan in Karachi.

But others heeded the general's call to give him five more years to continue his programme of reforms.

"I and my friends have decided to vote for Musharraf because there is no corruption scandal against him, unlike our past rulers," said banker Zafar Rizvi.

"We will also vote for him for his economic reforms, which we believe are good for the country," he said.

'Final decision'

General Musharraf has called the referendum "the day of verdict".

"I would fully accept your decision, and it will be final for me. I am confident you'll take the decision with due consideration," he said.

However, General Musharraf has still not clearly spelt out if he would step down if he lost the vote.

Results are expected to be broadcast every half an hour shortly after the polls close at 1900 local time (1300GMT).

The BBC's Susannah Price reports from Islamabad
"He [General Musharraf] told reporters the opposition should realise they had no public backing"
Javed Raja, Pakistan National Forum
"Musharraf said he is going to act on the ruling of the Supreme Court for the election before October"
Pakistan Information Minister Nisar Memon
"It [the turnout] is far beyond our expectations"
See also:

29 Apr 02 | South Asia
Pakistan's ignored voters
29 Apr 02 | South Asia
Pakistan prepares to vote
28 Apr 02 | South Asia
Musharraf 'ready' for another term
22 Apr 02 | South Asia
Court examines Musharraf poll
05 Apr 02 | South Asia
Analysis: Musharraf's referendum gamble
03 Apr 02 | South Asia
Musharraf goes for 'Zia option'
03 Apr 02 | South Asia
Musharraf poll approved
29 Apr 02 | South Asia
Q&A: Pakistan referendum
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