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Musharraf Cruising to Victory

Pakistan’s President Musharraf is on his way to a whopping win as counting of votes gets underway. But the voting has been tarnished by allegations of fraud and electoral irregularities.

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Yes, I've done it!

As the ballot counting got underway in Pakistan on Wednesday, there’s no doubt that President Musharraf is coasting to a landslide victory.

With three quarters of the votes counted in Pakistan, election officials say the overwhelming majority of them are in favour of Musharraf remaining in power for five years.

Pakistan television has reported that the "yes" vote was running at 97.5 percent of the votes counted.

Controversy over voter turnout

But controversy still surrounds the turnout figure in the referendum with government and opposition officials still squabbling over turnout estimates – seen as a barometer of Musharraf’s popularity.

The government described it as "unprecedented" and predicted a 30 percent voter turnout. But opposition forces dispute that and say turnout had been dismally low, putting it at 5 percent.

Though no official electoral roll exists in Pakistan, officials say some 62 million of the country’s 140 million people were eligible to vote.

At Pakistan’s last general election in 1997, official turnout was estimated to be 37 percent – a figure which opposition groups say was grossly inflated.

Allegations of voting irregularities surface

This time voting has been marred by allegations of fraud and rigging. There are reports of irregularities as voting got underway in the country’s 90,000 polling booths on Tuesday.

Opposition parties have protested that the referendum is undemocratic and unconstitutional. They say that Musharraf has lost all legitimacy and should step down.

They also insist that Pakistan’s President should be elected in the normal way following parliamentary elections in October.

Commonwealth lambasts referendum

General Musharraf who seized power in Pakistan in a bloodless coup in 1999 is head of the army, the government and last June also declared himself the President of the country.

He hopes to be elected for another five years to continue with economic and political reforms, root out corruption and rein in religious extremism. He has also promised to bring "transparency and democracy" back to Pakistan.

Though the US has refrained from criticising the referendum, it has come in for flak from the Commonwealth.

Commonwealth Secretary General Don Mckinnon said Pakistan would be monitored and discussed at the next Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group Meeting.

In a statement released in London he said, "The Commonwealth would be concerned if the referendum were used to entrench any undemocratic form of government. We wish to see a full return to constitutional rule in Pakistan".

Pakistan was suspend from the Commonwealth – a grouping of former British colonies – after Musharraf’s coup in 1999.

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