Sharif’s party ahead in Pakistan election

Imran Khan’s party concedes defeat, to ‘form govt in northwest’; voters defy violence as 29 killed


Pakistan’s Nawaz Sharif, seeking to become prime minister for a third time, appeared way ahead of his rivals in yesterday’s general election, according to a partial count of votes cast.
The election, in which 86 million people were eligible to vote, will bring the first transition between civilian governments in a country that has been ruled by the military for more than half of its turbulent history.
Despite attacks that killed 29 people, Pakistanis turned out in huge numbers Saturday to vote in an election that marked a historic democratic transfer of power in a country plagued by military coups.
The Pakistani Taliban, which has been waging a bloody insurgency against the government for years, tried to disrupt the election because the militants believe the country’s democracy runs counter to Islam.
The government responded by deploying an estimated 600,000 security personnel across the country to protect polling sites and voters, reports AP.
Many Pakistanis seemed determined to cast their ballots despite a series of gun and bomb attacks against candidates, party workers and voters in cities across the country that killed 29 people yesterday.
“Yes, there are fears. But what should we do?” said Ali Khan, who was waiting to vote in the northwestern city of Peshawar, where one of the blasts took place. “Either we sit in our house and let the terrorism go on, or we come out of our homes, cast our vote, and bring in a government that can solve this problem of terrorism.”
Many of the attacks in the run-up to the vote targeted secular parties. That raised concern the violence could benefit hard-line Islamists and others who take a softer line toward the militants because they were able to campaign more freely.
The secretary of the election commission, Ahmed Khan, told reporters in Islamabad that he expected the turnout in Saturday’s election to be “massive.” The commission will likely announce unofficial election results on Sunday.
Many Pakistanis expressed pride that so many of their fellow citizens chose to vote.
“More political activity means more awareness,” said Nasira Jibran in Lahore. “More awareness means more accountability.”
PML-N leader Sharif is best known for testing Pakistan’s first nuclear weapon in 1998, and his party is seen to have a pro-business stance.
“Let the election results come and you will see that we will have enough votes to form the government with a simple majority. It’s already quite clear,” said Rana Sanaullah, a PML-N leader.
Sharif’s strong performance appeared to have dealt a blow to the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), which led the government for the last five years. Nearly five hours after polling stations closed, it could count on only 20 seats going in its favour.
On top of the 272 contested seats, a further 70 – most reserved for women and members of non-Muslim minorities – are allocated to parties on the basis of their performance in the constituencies.
To have a majority of the total of 342, a party would need 172 seats, reports Reuters.
The party of Pakistani cricket star Imran Khan early today conceded defeat in general elections, but said it would form the next government in the terror-hit northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Assad Omar, a senior leader in Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), sent his congratulations to the centre-right Pakistan Muslim League-N, which he said had emerged as the largest party, as results started to come through.
But speaking to private TV channel Geo, he refused to be defeatist, reports AFP.
“For Tehreek-e-Insaf it is a big day, a golden day. A party which has no existence in parliament has emerged the second largest national party and the leading party in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa where God willing it is going to form a government,” he said.
Northwestern Pakistan is on the frontline of a nearly seven-year domestic Taliban insurgency and suffers near daily bomb and shooting attacks blamed on militants.
Khan has called for an end to military operations and peace talks with the Taliban, making his party’s win in the northwest an interesting proposition.
Omar said the PTI leader, who is flat on his back in hospital with a fractured spine after falling from the stage of a campaign rally, was following the results.
“He will give his reaction tomorrow, but I will say he knows how to win and how to lose, and after losing, how to come back. He is taking these results like a sportsman,” Omar said.
“It is very clear that PTI has emerged as the largest party in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, so we will form our government here with the help of like-minded political parties,” said Shaukat Yousafzai, who won a seat for the party in the provincial assembly.
“We will make a coalition with all those political parties and MPs who were never involved in corruption,” he added.
Pakistan’s Taliban, which is close to al Qaeda, has killed more than 125 people in election-related violence since April. The group, which is fighting to topple the US-backed government, regards the election as un-Islamic.
More bloodshed marred election day. A bomb attack on the office of the Awami National Party (ANP) in Karachi killed 11 people and wounded about 40.
In Baluchistan, four died in a gunbattle and, in another incident, gunmen on a motorcycle opened fire near a polling station, killing two people, police said. A separate attack on a convoy of voters killed at least four people in the restive province.

Source: The Daily Star


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