AAM: "If the fix is in, it's already in."
Michael reports from Islamabad during the final hours of voting. Not a lot of violence -- certainly less than most people expected -- but as Michael says, if the fix is in, it was in long before today. And the mere expectation of that may trigger violent reaction as the results are announced hours or days from now.(It's a pretty windy day there, they had to change mics between feeds.)[Note: there was a major technical glitch on my recording of the first clip, which I spent hours trying to fix before realizing the transfer/conversion failed in the same spot each time, no matter what I did... so I finally just bypassed it, which means the clips starts sort of mid-sentence as Kiran Chetry sets up the interview. All you're missing is about five more seconds of Musharraf casting his ballot.]
KIRAN CHETRY: [Also happening right now, Pakistan's national election. Polls are expected to close in a short while, and we have video just in within the last couple of hours. There's President Pervez Musharraf casting his vote. He has vowed to accept] the results of the election which was delayed after the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.
CNN's Michael Ware is live for us in Islamabad. And Michael, how much are these election seen as a referendum against President Musharraf?
MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kiran, in many ways, that's, in fact, what they are. The president is deeply unpopular according to all the polls, although of course President Musharraf dismisses those results. Now, that's a direct result largely of economic factors and day-to-day life. The price of bread and flour has gone up six times in the past year because of what people see as government mismanagement.
People are also worried about security and the rule of law. What we saw at the end of last year is essentially what most people believe is President Musharraf securing his third unconstitutional term in parliament, by and large through a coup d'etat, pouring the troops out onto the streets and gutting the Supreme Court that may have challenged that power.
Now in this election, though the president is not running -- this is a parliamentary election -- he's still fighting for his life because the opposition parties, if they win and form a majority, if they get two-thirds of the parliament, they could remove him. So, yes, this is very much a referendum on the president and he is in this for his life -- Kiran.
CHETRY: You know, of course, there were concerns about violence. What did you see when you went out to the polls today?
WARE: Well, we've been out and about in the twin cities of Rawalpindi, the heartland of the Pakistani military and one of the largest cities in the country, and here in the capital itself, Islamabad. Now, we personally witnessed no violence but already today, we've had reports of five different bombing attacks. Now, one of them was not near a polling station. The rest were. One of those attacks was a double attack.
First, an early morning explosion out on the frontier at a polling station, drawing in the police whose convoy was then hit by yet another blast. Now, fortunately, no one was hurt in any of those incidents. Yet overnight, we had the assassination of a candidate in the city of Lahore, suspending voting in that particular constituency. And today, a firefight broke out between two rival parties, resulting in the death of yet another person.
Meanwhile, we've had reports and allegations from various parties that they're being denied access to the polling booths or that their voters are being harassed. But so far, nothing has been confirmed. By and large, it's been relatively peaceful, and perhaps like Iraq, we're seeing the militants hold off during Election Day because that would be so deeply unpopular. Yet, we're now into the last hour of polling, and let's see what unfolds -- Kiran.
CHETRY: Michael Ware, we'll check in with you again in the next hour. Thank you.
KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: Plus, Election Day. Pakistan finally votes. What today means for the war on terror and the hunt for Bin Laden on this AMERICAN MORNING.
And thanks for joining us on this Monday. It's February 18th. I'm Kiran Chetry. John Roberts is off today.
At this hour polls should be closing in Pakistan. The country's holding the national elections. They were delayed, but they are now going on. New video this morning of President Pervez Musharraf casting his own vote. The election delayed after the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.
CNN's Michael Ware is watching the elections this morning. He joins us live from Islamabad. Musharraf was promising free and fair elections. There are U.S. lawmakers there to make sure that things that are going okay. Have there been red flags raised already, Michael?
MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, there's been some complaints, Kiran, by various political parties, some of the smaller ones that have been denied access by their rivals to some of the polling stations. There's been vague, really unconfirmed reports of some ballots going missing. But by and large, no. There's been no official or significant red flags put up.
But you need to remember this, that if the fix is in, it's already in. It's not about stuffing ballots or making boxes disappear on today, the actual election day. What the opposition parties have been saying is that the rigging was done when the government put people into provincial and local positions many weeks, months ago. That's when they say that the fix was put in.
Now, of course, the government denies that. And American observers and international observers are here, yet really only in a symbolic way because they're not going to see anything. These people are not that clumsy or foolish. Yet, nonetheless, as one of the congresswomen here said to me, their presence is nonetheless important in sending a message. If these elections are not free and transparent, then America will have a very serious response, said Congresswoman Sheila Jackson-Lee -- Kiran.
CHETRY: And, you know, Musharraf, by the way, seen by the administration as an ally on the war on terror. So if he does lose his grip on power, which he could, can the U.S. rely on any successor?
WARE: Well, that depends on who emerges, but by and large, the answer is yes. Now, we've heard from Pakistani commentators here on the ground, political representatives, analysts, members of the intelligence services and the military, and even western military and intelligence services and, indeed, some of the congressional delegates themselves that, you know, it depends on who emerges.
America has relied far too much on one man, dumping their eggs in one basket. We heard President Bush refer to President Musharraf as indispensable. We then saw Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice pull that back, saying the relationship between America is with the Pakistani people. America cannot afford to rely on one man who is seen as a dictator, who has held on to power with his second coup d'etat in November last year. So, yes, America will be working with whomever remains president and whomever emerges as prime minister -- Kiran.
CHETRY: Michael Ware for us in Islamabad this morning. Thank you.