For voters,no threat bad enough

60 per cent voter turnout despite violence that killed at least 26,injured several others

Written by Reuters | Islamabad | Published on:May 12, 2013 2:16 am

Election Commission orders repoll at 42 stations of NA-250 constituency in Karachi * Nawaz Sharif set for third term as PML-N takes massive lead over rivals PTI and PPP

A string of militant attacks and gunfights that killed at least 26 people cast a long shadow over Pakistan’s general election Saturday,but millions still turned out to vote in a landmark test of the troubled country’s democracy.

The poll,in which some 86 million people were eligible to vote,will bring the first transition between civilian governments in a country ruled by the military for more than half of its turbulent history.

But in the commercial centre,Karachi,the country’s biggest city,several voters complained of irregularities and intimidation and the election commission said the process was flawed.

“We have been unable to carry out free and fair elections in Karachi,” it said in a statement. The impact on the national elections was not immediately clear.

Polls were meant to close at 1700 local time (1200 GMT) but a one-hour extension was granted because many people still had not voted.

Despite the searing heat,many went to the polls excited about the prospect of change in a country that is plagued with Taliban militancy,a near-failed economy,endemic corruption,chronic power cuts and crumbling infrastructure.

“The team that we elect today will determine whether the rot will be stemmed or whether we will slide further into the abyss,” prominent lawyer Babar Sattar wrote in The News daily.

However,opinion polls have suggested that disenchantment with the two main parties,the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N),could mean that no one group emerges with a parliamentary majority,making the next government unstable and too weak to push through much-needed reform.

A late surge of support for the party of former cricket star Imran Khan has made a split mandate all the more likely. Khan,60,is in hospital after injuring himself in a fall at a party rally,which may also win him sympathy votes.

“The timing of such a split couldn’t be worse for Pakistan,” Sattar said. “The challenge of terror and economic meltdown confronting us won’t wait for a party to be granted (a) clear mandate.”

A bomb attack on the office of the Awami National Party (ANP) in Karachi killed 11 people and wounded about 40. At least two were wounded in three blasts that followed,and media reported gunfire in the city.

Four died in a gunbattle in Baluchistan. Gunmen on a motorcycle opened fire near a polling station in the restive province as well,killing two people,police said.

Several were injured in an explosion that destroyed an ANP office in the insurgency-infected northwest,and there were further casualties in a blast in the city of Peshawar.

Pakistan’s Taliban,who are close to al Qaeda,have killed more than 120 people in election-related violence since April. The group,which is fighting to topple the U.S.-backed government,regards the elections as un-Islamic.

Ballot roll

A total of 180 million ballot papers weighing 650 tonnes were used for Saturday’s general elections in Pakistan.

Some 50 helicopters flew for 347 hours to transport the papers across the country.

Security cover had been provided to …continued »

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