Islamabad, May 11 (IANS) Unfazed by Taliban threats and bombings, millions of Pakistanis Saturday voted in parliamentary elections that will mark a democratic transition from one elected government to another.
The balloting will also simultaneously elect new provincial assemblies.
The violent run-up to the elections left at least 100 people, including three candidates, dead in a series of terror attacks and saw the audacious abduction of former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani’s son from a street corner meeting in Multan.
The Taliban vowed more attacks Saturday. Taliban threats forced most political parties to confine themselves to limited public canvassing and to go for appeals through the electronic media.
At least 10 people were killed and 50 injured Saturday in a huge explosion that tore through a group of voters waiting close to a polling station in Karachi, media reports said.
Eight people were injured in another bombing that targeted female voters at a polling station in Peshawar city.
But nothing failed to deter the Pakistanis.
Eager voters waited patiently in queues to cast their ballot for a new national government. This is the first time ever that an elected civilian government has completed its five-year term since independence in 1947.
At one polling station in Islamabad, journalists saw over 200 people waiting patiently to vote.
“We want change, we are really fed up with the old faces coming back to power every time and doing nothing for the nation,” BBC quoted Abdul Sattar, 74, as saying.
The main contenders for power in the high-stake battle are the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) led by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM), Awami National Party and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) of Imran Khan.
The Jamaat-e-Islami, Awami Muslim League and Pakistan Muslim League-Q are also in the fray.
In Lahore, capital of Pakistan’s biggest province Punjab, voting went on smoothly. Punjab accounts for the largest chunk of the 342 seats in the National Assembly. Balloting is on Saturday for 269 seats.
The total number of candidates in the fray across Pakistan is 23,079.
“When good people do not vote, bad people benefit,” said Chief Election Commissioner Fakhruddin G. Ebrahim after voting.
Ebrahim urged Pakistanis to go out and vote, reported Geo News.
Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry too underlined the message after casting his vote.
He said the elections were proof of the superiority of the constitution.
President Asif Ali Zardari voted through postal ballot.
More than 600,000 security personnel and soldiers were on guard as voting progressed.
Security cameras have been installed in many places, a military official told Dawn.
Armoured personnel carriers were deployed in “most sensitive areas”, which were also subject to aerial surveillance.
Election for 269 of the 342 seats of the National Assembly and 728 seats in the four provincial assemblies are being held simultaneously.
Polling began at 8 a.m. and will end 5 p.m.
With a population of 180 million, Pakistan has 86 million voters, including 36 million women.
Teen activist Malala Yousufzai, who became an icon after being shot in the head by the Taliban, said Saturday that one vote can change Pakistan’s future.
In a letter carried by Dawn, Malala said: “If we want education, electricity and natural gas in our country, we must take a step. Let’s vote for our country. We never realized how much powerful our vote is. One vote can change our future.”
She stressed that “it’s our vote that chooses which politicians will govern our motherland. I request all my sisters and mothers to move forward, go to polling station and vote. It’s our right.
“And one day, a change will come. All girls and boys will be going to schools and there will be peace everywhere.”
On the eve of the balloting, Pakistan expelled the Islamabad bureau chief for The New York Times.
The Times has strongly protested the orders of Pakistan’s interior ministry and is seeking the reinstatement of Declan Walsh, 39, a veteran correspondent who has lived and worked in Pakistan for nine years.
The 20-day election campaign ended at midnight Thursday with mainstream parties holding big public meetings in the capital Islamabad and the eastern city of Lahore.
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