Vote counting has begun in Pakistan’s historic elections after millions of people streamed to polling stations on Saturday defying deadly Taliban attacks that killed 18 earlier in the day.
Polling stations across Pakistan officially closed at 6:00 p.m. (1300 GMT) after what the country's Electoral Commission called a “huge” turnout. Voting was extended by three hours late in the day across seven Karachi constituencies at polling stations which failed to open until mid-afternoon, officials said.
“The electoral commission of Pakistan was successful in conducting the elections. We have had a huge turnout in Punjab,” commission secretary Ishtiaq Ahmed told a press conference.
Ahmed refused to announce the exact figure of voters, but said the turnout was “very good.”
More than 86 million people were eligible to vote at the 70,000 polling booths across the country for the 342-member national assembly and four provincial assemblies of Punjab, Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Baluchistan.
Rival party supporters accused each other of vote rigging, particularly in Karachi where Jamaat-e-Islami's Islamist party boycotted the election after accusing Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) of misconduct.
When asked to address the allegation of fraud, Ahmed said, “we will not hide anything. If we have a complaint from any polling station, we will take notice of it. Rest assured there will be no compromise on the transparency of the election.”
Opinion polls prior to the vote tipped former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) to win the election, while the Movement for Justice Party (PTI) of former cricket star Imran Khan enjoyed a late surge in support.
Saturday's election marks the first time a government has completed a full term in office and handed power to another through a general election. Pakistan has had three military coups and four military rulers.
Violence mars democratic vote
As voting began, at least 12 people were killed when a bomb exploded outside the offices of the secular Awami National Party (ANP). Dozens more were reported to have been were injured.
At least six people were shot dead in the southwest of the country as they cast their votes.
The run-up to the poll had been marred by violence, with at least 130 people killed, mostly candidates and workers from secular parties.
More than 600,000 security personnel were deployed to boost security after the pre-election violence.
jlw/dr (AFP, Reuters, AP)