Terror, abduction and a fall: turbulent run-up to Pakistan polls

Islamabad, May 10 (IANS) Pakistan was on the edge Friday, a day before it goes to the polls to decide the fate of 23,000 candidates who stayed on despite a volatile run-up that saw at least 100 people being killed in a series of terror attacks and former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani’s son being abducted.

To add to the anxiety levels, star leader and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf chief Imran Khan suffered serious injuries after a fall in an election rally in Lahore Tuesday.

As Pakistanis prepare to vote in a new civilian government – this is the first time ever that an elected government has completed its term – former military strongman Pervez Musharraf found himself under arrest. He had returned from exile in Dubai hoping to be a factor but that was not to be.

Chief Election Commissioner Fakhruddin G. Ebrahim said Friday all arrangements were in place for free, fair and transparent elections.

“The power of vote can change destiny of the nation,” he said.

The 20-day election campaign had ended at midnight Thursday with mainstream parties holding big public meetings in the capital Islamabad and the eastern city of Lahore.

Election for 342 seats of the National Assembly and 728 seats in the four provincial assemblies will be held simultaneously. Polling will begin at 8 a.m., and will continue until 5 p.m. without any break.

The Election Commission’s data shows that a total of 23,079 candidates are in the fray for the National Assembly and provincial assembly seats. The country of 180 million will 84 million voters, including 36 million women, exercising their franchise.

The election campaign has been marred by a string of attacks by the Pakistani Taliban, whose chief Hakimullah Mehsood has warned of more strikes on election day. Officials estimate that over 100 people have died and many more injured in these terror strikes. At least three candidates were killed in attacks where elections have been postponed.

The main contenders for power in this high stakes battle being watched all over the world are the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM), the Awami National Party and the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI). There are others too like the Jamaat-e-Islami, Awami Muslim League and the Pakistan Muslim League-Q.

Barely two days before the polls, Gilani’s son Ali Haider Gilani was Thursday abducted in Multan town by armed men who attacked a street corner meeting of the PPP. Two people were killed and four injured in the brazen attack that rattled campaigners and voters.

“I urge all of my party supporters to remain peaceful and participate in the vote,” Gilani said.

Pakistan’s elected government completed its first full five-year term March 17, an unprecedented development in a country that has seen long spells of military rule, with the last of the military dictators being Musharraf who returned to the country March 23 after a self-imposed exile.

Though he was keen to contest the elections, Musharraf’s nomination papers were rejected from four constituencies. He was subsequently arrested on graft charges and is under guard at his luxurious country villa just outside Islamabad, which has been declared a sub-jail.

The elections are being held under a caretaker government with Mir Hazar Khan Khoso, a former judge of the country’s top court, being made the caretaker prime minister.

Pakistan’s parliament, according to the 1973 constitution, is bicameral. It consists of the president and two houses – the National Assembly and the Senate. The National Assembly has 342 seats, including 60 reserved for women and 10 for non-Muslims.

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