Vote Count Under Way In Pakistani Polls Following High Turnout
May 11, 2013
by RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal
ISLAMABAD -- Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has declared victory for his center-right party hours after the vote count began in Pakistan's parliamentary elections.
Early unofficial results from the May 11 vote suggest his Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e Insaf (PTI) received strong support.
Khan is seen as potentially receiving a fresh burst of sympathy from voters after an accident this week at a political rally in which he fell, fracturing several vertebrae and a rib.
A high voter turnout was reported, despite deadly attacks on candidates and threats against voters by militant extremists.
Ishtiaq Ahmed, a senior official of the Election Commission of Pakistan, declared the elections a success after the commission extended voting by one hour to allow more voters a chance to cast their ballots.
'With the help of God and all institutions of the state, the Election Commission of Pakistan has been successful in fulfilling its primary task of holding free and fair polls in the country,' he said.
RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal reports that at least 10 people were killed and dozens injured in a bombing in the port city of Karachi. The blast apparently targeted offices of the secular Awami National Party.
Police said that the target, candidate Amanullah Mehsud, who is seeking election to the Sindh provincial assembly, escaped unhurt.
Meanwhile, five people died in a gunbattle between the supporters of two candidates in southwestern Balochistan on the border with Afghanistan.
There were reports of rocket attacks and violence elsewhere in the province where Baloch separatists had urged an election boycott.
Two blasts in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa capital city of Peshawar targeting female voters injured 22. One of the blasts reportedly targeted a school turned into a polling station.
In the tribal district of North Waziristan, a Taliban stronghold, women were warned through a mosque loudspeaker not to leave their houses to cast votes.
The Pakistani Taliban condemned the elections as un-Islamic.
'Everybody who came could actually cast his and her vote,' Gahler said. 'And here in Islamabad in this school, what I've seen thus far, it runs very smoothly and very professionally.'
Irregularities were reported in Karachi, however, where some polling stations in the sprawling city of 21 million opened late.
The delay and alleged rigging prompted Islamist parties Jamat-e-Islami and the Sunni Ittehad Council and the ethno-nationalist Muhajir Qaumi Movement to boycott the process. Jamat-e-Islami also extended its boycott to the nearby city of Hyderabad.
In Balochistan, the Jamhuri Watan Party, a Baluch nationalist faction, also announced an election boycott, citing rigging.
More than 86 million voters were eligible to cast ballots for the 342-member National Assembly and assemblies in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab, Sindh, and Balochistan provinces.
Sixty seats in the National Assembly are reserved specifically for women and 10 for non-Muslim minorities.
Some 600,000 security personnel were deployed to guard polling places following an election campaign in which upward of 120 people were killed in militant attacks.
The vote marks the first time in Pakistan's 66-year history that a civilian government has completed a full term and handed over to another civilian administration through the ballot box.
Pakistan's military has ruled for approximately half the period since the country's independence in 1947, staging coups three times.
Voters appear largely disenchanted with the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the Awami National Party -- the outgoing ruling coalition partners -- who appeared to be heading for major losses.
In Karachi, Pakistan's largest city, voter Tasneem Khalid expressed her dissatisfaction.
'Whoever comes should be better for the country,' she said. 'The situation is bad in the country. May Allah improve the conditions.'
During its five-year term, the government struggled to take effective action over a myriad of problems, ranging from deadly attacks by Islamic militants to sectarianism, natural disasters, and corruption.
Businessman and voter Mohammad Asif from Lahore said the country badly needs foreign investment.
'I have come with the hope that a new and good Pakistan will emerge from this vote and we'll have a change in the country,' he said. 'God willing, soon, and Pakistan will be a prosperous country and Pakistan will be a country where people from everywhere in the world will come and invest in Pakistan and would love to come to Pakistan.'
It has also had to contend with deteriorating relations with the United States, particularly in the aftermath of the 2011 raid by U.S. forces that killed Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, who was living in a compound not far from a key Pakistani military facility.
The PPP is formally led by Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, son of President Asif Ali Zardari and the assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.
There has been no new word about the fate of Ali Haider Gilani, a PPP candidate and son of former Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani.
Gunmen abducted Gilani on May 9 during a campaign rally in Multan, where he is running for the provincial assembly.
In another development, "The New York Times" says that on the eve of the elections, Pakistani authorities expelled the newspaper's Islamabad bureau chief, Declan Walsh, due to 'undesirable activities." Authorities have not supplied details of these alleged activities.
With reporting by AFP, AP, and Reuters
Copyright (c) 2013. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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