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

Islamabad, May 10 (IANS) Pakistan goes to the polls Saturday after an unsettling run-up that saw a series of terror attacks, including former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani’s son being abducted. To add to the anxiety, star leader Imran Khan suffered extensive injuries after a fall.

As Pakistanis prepare to vote in a new civilian government – this is the first time ever that an elected government has completed its term – observers wondered if voters would feel the absence of former military strongman Pervez Musharraf, who returned from exile in Dubai but is now under arrest.

The election campaign has been marred by a string of attacks by the Pakistani Taliban, which has vowed even more violence on election day. It is estimated that over 100 people have died and many more injured in these terror strikes.

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. One person was killed and four injured in the brazen attack that rattled campaigners.

PTI chief and former cricketer Imran Khan too gave some anxious moments when he suffered grievous injuries from a fall from a forklift during a poll rally in Lahore Tuesday.

Though Khan and former prime minister Nawaz Sharif had been daggers drawn even before the campaign began, the PML-N chief announced Wednesday after the fall that he was cancelling all campaign activity for that day.

Apart from Sharif, messages of sympathy for Khan poured in from other party heads and politicians.

“Equally heartening was Khan’s own attitude as he spoke from his hospital bed, urging the people to cast their vote May 11,” noted a leading daily in an editorial.

The country has seen its first full-term civilian government since independence. Pakistan’s elected government completed its 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 country of 180 million is headed to general elections that will see 84 million voters, including 36 million women, exercising their franchise.

There are only 36 women candidates for the 272 National Assembly general seats, prompting a Pakistani daily to note that parties had once again relegated women’s participation in the transition of power to the sidelines.

The elections are going to be 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.

The youth will be the driving force of this election, figures released by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) show.

A significant proportion of the electorate is made up of people under the age of 35. Nearly half of the 84 million registered voters – 47.8 percent – are aged between 18 and 35, while 19.77 percent, or 16.88 million voters, are under the age of 26.

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