Populist leader Benazir Bhutto defeated her right-wing opponents in Pakistan's first free national elections in 11 years and Thursday called on the president to let her form the new government.
In Wednesday's balloting, the voters gave "a mandate for democracy, dignity . . . justice and technology," the 35-year-old politician told reporters at her family villa in southern Sind province.The U.S.-educated Bhutto would be the first woman to lead a Moslem nation if she is chosen to form the government. Pakistan was run by Gen. Mohammed Zia ul-Haq until his death Aug. 17 in a plane crash.
Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party captured 92 seats in the 237-member National Assembly, easily outpacing its main rival, the right-wing Islamic Democratic Alliance, which won 55 seats.
Independent candidates and minor parties captured 57 seats. Results from 13 races were not available.
The remaining 20 seats will be filled by women chosen by the elected assembly members.
Two of the Alliance's three major figures, including former Prime Minister Mohammad Khan Junejo, were defeated by People's Party candidates.
About 30 political parties fielded candidates, but the campaign boiled down to a race between the People's Party and the nine-party Alliance, which includes loyalists of Zia.
Bhutto said President Ghulam Ishaq Khan "should now call upon the PPP to form the government," which would allow her to recapture the prime ministership her father lost in a 1977 coup.
She said the People's Party had already started talking with other left-leaning parties and said forming a governing coalition would not be difficult.
The country's Constitution requires Ishaq Khan to choose a prime minister who will be "most likely to command the confidence of the majority of the National Assembly," but he is under no deadline to act.
Asked Wednesday whether he would be reluctant to designate a woman as head of government of this male-dominated soceity, Ishaq Khan replied: "I think a woman prime minister might be a good change."
The army had pledged not to interfere in Wednesday's balloting, and thousands of soldiers and police were deployed for the election, which was largely peaceful.
Junejo, once the undisputed leader of the Alliance-dominating Pakistan Muslim League, was defeated in his hometown of Sindhri by a People's Party candidate.
Bhutto's father was Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, whose government was toppled by Zia in 1977. Zia had him hanged two years later.
Ms. Bhutto and the Alliance both pledged to continue close ties with the United States.