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11 May, 2013 07:44

Dozens killed in attacks as Pakistan holds landmark election

Over 30 people have been killed in Pakistan, where millions cast ballots in the first peaceful turnover of power in the nation's 66-year history. On the eve of the vote the Pakistani Taliban vowed chaos as they deem the historic election anti-Islamic.

Read RT's LIVE UPDATES on Pakistani election violence

The Saturday’s vote is the first time a civilian government is transferring power after completing a full term in office without falling to a military coup.

86 million registered voters across four provinces and four federal territories have been electing the representatives to the National Assembly and provincial assemblies.

There were 4,670 candidates standing for 272 seats in the 342-member parliament first-past-the-post system.

Some 70,000 polling stations, with about 40 per cent of them intended for female voters, were opened across the country, staffed by more than 600,000 workers.

Pakistani election officials unlock ballot boxes at the end of polling in Islamabad on May 11, 2013. (AFP Photo)

According to initial data from the polling stations, the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan's Pakistan Movement for Justice have taken the lead in the general election.

The heads of both parties have already collected enough votes to book themselves places in the new parliament, AFP reports.

With official results not yet announced, Sharif has addressed the crowd in Lahore, declaring PML-N’s win in the election. He said that he hopes for the majority of the vote in order to avoid coalition, but added that he’s ready to cooperate with other parties in tackling Pakistan’s problem issues.

Former cricket star, Khan entered the race as a dark horse, appealing to those disenchanted with mainstream politicians – especially young voters – and may end up deciding the balance of power if the election produces no clear winner.

The main contest is however expected to unfold between outgoing President Asif Ali Zardari’s Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP) and the opposition PML-N, with the latter expected to win the majority.

Though marred by corruption, an energy crisis, militant attacks, controversial US drone killings and other issues plaguing the current cabinet, the Pakistani elections have sparked excitement as the first vote.

“The turnover in this election was remarkably high,” Masood Malik, editor at the daily Dunya newspaper in Islamabad, told RT. “It was more than 50 per cent. In some places it was more than 60 per cent, which is a record in the history of this country.”

According to Malik, the election is Pakistan’s big victory in the war against the Taliban as the people “have voted against this terrorism and this militancy and rejected this culture in this country.

“The people have participated in this election with their full spirit. The militants tried to stop the people from casting their votes. But the people came out from their houses and ran to the polling stations and they cast their votes,” he added.

Pakistani volunteers shift an injured blast victim to a hospital following a bomb explosion in Karachi on May 11, 2013. (AFP Photo)

However, the final hours of polling were dominated by rigging allegations, with the Election Commission of Pakistan confirming that they failed to hold free and fair elections in the country’s largest city of Karachi because of the violence there.

As a result, the ECP has announced that a re-vote will take place at more than 40 polling stations in Karachi, Dawn.com reports.

There were other violations registered, with reports of female voters barred from taking part in the election in some conservative parts of the northwest of the country. The situation recalls the general election of 2008, when 564 of the 28,000 polling stations opened for women saw no turnout at all. Men were also spotted voting at female-only polling stations.

Voting amid violence

Security fears ran at a fever pitch during the election campaign, which saw 130 people lose their lives in terrorist attacks, as the Pakistani Taliban issued a number of threats, largely against three secular political parties.

Pakistani volunteers shift an injured blast victim to a hospital following a bomb explosion in Karachi on May 11, 2013 (AFP Photo / Asif Hassan)

The Pakistani military dispatched thousands of troops to polling stations in order to prevent militants from disrupting the vote. The Taliban previously threatened to carry out widespread attacks on Saturday, including suicide bombings, saying that it opposes the “infidel” system of democracy in the country.

Over 25 people were killed and around 200 injured on Saturday in Pakistan, with most of the victims coming from Karachi, which saw a number on militant attacks on the day.

The most devastating of them occurred in the city’s Landhi area as the political office of the Awami National Party (ANP) was targeted by an early morning bomb attack, which failed to kill candidate Aman Ullah.

Elsewhere in Pakistan, Taliban bombed polling stations and police departments, shot at security officers and voters as well as kidnapped candidates.

The violence prompted the suspension of polling in Charsadda and Naushahro Feroze and other cities in the country as the representatives of opposing parties clashed using firearms and grenades.

Pakistani election officials count ballot papers at the end of polling in Islamabad on May 11, 2013. (AFP Photo)

Several bombs were reportedly defused before voting began on Saturday morning, according to Al Jazeera. No one has so far taken the responsibility for the attacks, except for the initial two blasts in the coastal city of Karachi, claimed by Pakistani Taliban.

Adding to the anxiety, an unidentified gunman kidnapped the son of a former Prime Minister Yousuf Gilani on Thursday; his whereabouts are still unknown.

Despite all the disturbances, RT’s Lucy Kafanov reported from Pakistan that “all signs point to a successful democratic election here in Pakistan, which is critical for a country that has been ruled by the military for more than a half of its existence as an independent state.”

International security specialist, Patricia DeGennaro, told RT that people of Pakistan are so fed up with conditions in their country that they're courageous enough to head to polls despite the danger.

“We saw the same thing in Afghanistan with the Taliban threatening and, as we’re seeing, they are very serious about those threats. And it’s difficult for people that don’t have a lot of manoeuvrability with so many threats going on around them,”
she said. “Fear goes a long way, particularly, when you don’t know when it’s going to happen and you’re looking at every corner. People really take risks to get out there and exercise their right and their voice. They’re becoming victims from an external power and they’re becoming victims from their own internal struggle. People become very tired. Remember when you’re so traumatized, you become absolutely exhausted with this continuous type of reflection in your reality. Sometimes it’s hard to be so courageous.”

Pakistani relatives mourn over the dead body of a blast victim at a hospital following a bomb explosion in Karachi on May 11, 2013 (AFP Photo / Asif Hassan)