On the last day of campaigning for Pakistan's first free elections in a decade, Benazir Bhutto drew tens of thousands of cheering supporters Monday to Lahore, a traditional stronghold for her party.
The 35-year-old Bhutto's populist Pakistan People's Party, its main rival nine-party Islamic Democratic Alliance and about 20 other smaller religious and separatist parties made final appeals for votes in Wednesday's balloting.Bhutto's final rally was scheduled in Peshawar, on the northwestern frontier with Afghanistan. The Islamic Democratic Alliance, which contains loyalists of late strongman President Mohammad Zia ul-Haq, chose Lahore for its campaign finale.
Election officials have ordered all campaigning to cease at midnight in order to establish calm. And the government said thousands of security forces had gone on alert to quell any political violence.
Federal and provincial authorities announced the mobilization of police, army and paramilitary forces to head off any trouble during the lengthy voting period, which ends Saturday with provincial elections.
At stake Wednesday are 217 elected seats in the National Assembly and on Saturday, 483 seats in the four provincial legislatures.
The party that takes the most National Assembly seats will have the first chance at forming a government.
No reliable polls have been taken during the campaign.
The election is seen mainly as a contest between Bhutto's left-leaning party and Zia loyalists led by the Pakistan Muslim League of former Prime Minister Mohammad Khan Junejo and Punjab state chief minister Nawaz Sharif.
Bhutto is the daughter of former Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, whom Zia ousted in a 1977 coup and had hanged two years later for conspiracy to kill a political rival.
Zia died in an Aug. 17 plane crash that investigators said appeared to be sabotage. Also killed were the U.S. ambassador and 28 other people.
Wednesday's vote is expected to be the first democratic election in the nation of 107 million people since the 1973 polls that swept the elder Bhutto to power.