KARACHI, May 11 (UPI Next) -- Polling has now ended in historic Pakistani elections, the first time since the nation’s 1947 independence in which a popularly elected government has submitted itself to a fresh round of polls.
Initial results suggest the Pakistan Muslim League, led by Nawaz Sharif, is ahead, with ex-cricketer Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf and the Pakistan Peoples Party, led by Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, son of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, assassinated in 2007, close behind.
Polling had to be extended into Saturday evening to accommodate technical challenges in the face of a large voter turnout, and violent attacks attributed to the Pakistani Taliban, the outlawed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan militant group
"We have extended polling time till 8 p.m. in six national assembly and 14 provincial assembly seats in Karachi only," Election Commission of Pakistan chief Ishtiaq Ahmad told a news conference late Saturday. Polling in the rest of the country wrapped up at 6 p.m. on Saturday.
According to the commission, 86 million Pakistanis were registered to vote at 70,000 polling stations across the country, to elect 272 members of Pakistan’s National Assembly and 577 members of four provincial assemblies. Three million security officials, including army and paramilitary forces, were on hand to maintain order.
The winner of Saturday’s vote will replace a caretaker government led by Prime Minister Mir Hazar Khan Khoso, appointed March 24 by the Election Commission following the termination of a coalition government formed by the Pakistan Muslim League and the Pakistan People’s Party.
Many areas were targeted by Taliban militants, including districts in Pakistan’s largest cities. Two bombs detonated in the southern port city of Karachi, where at least 11 people were killed and more than 32 were hurt.
A blast in northern Peshawar injured four people. Bomb blasts were also reported in Quetta, Mardan and Bannu, without any casualties.
Four people were reported killed in a clash between Awami National Party activists and supporters of an independent candidate in Chaman, a district center in the province of Balochistan, on the border with Afghanistan.
Tehreek-e-Taliban had threatened to attack those taking part in Saturday’s elections, specifically targeting the secular Pakistan Peoples’ Party, Awami National Party, and Muthida Qaumi Movement.
Pre-poll Taliban attacks have claimed over 100 lives in Sindh, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Mushatq Yousafzai, a Peshawar-based journalist and expert on the group, said.
Despite a good turnout across the country, polling was delayed at several polls by an absence of polling staff and ballot paper shortages.
“Polling in different constituencies of Karachi started late and the election commission should increase the time of polling,” Tehreek-e-Insaf candidate Arif Alvi told UPI Next.
“I expect 80 percent turnout of the voters,” the election commission’s Ahmad told reporters Saturday, in Islamabad.
Various parties in Saturday’s elections complained of vote rigging. Jamaat-i-Islami, the country’s largest religious party, announced that it would boycott elections in Karachi and Hyderabad, two major districts of southern Sindh province, Muhammad Hussain Mehanti, a senior party leader, told a news conference in Karachi Saturday.
“Our candidates and voters are being threatened by open exhibition of weapons at polling stations, and therefore we withdraw our candidates from Karachi and Hyderabad,” Mehanti said. He claimed the liberal Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) had “masterminded this plan for rigging.”
At a news conference at the MQM’s Karachi headquarters, Farooq Sattar, a senior party leader, told reporters that a delay in polling at 119 Karachi polling stations was a “conspiracy against the MQM.”
Election Commission chief Ishtiaq Ahmad confirmed delays to reporters Saturday evening, and announced that polling would be extended. Polling was extended for an hour, until 6:00 p.m., “following complaints of delay in start of the polling.”
Former Prime Minister, Raja Pervez Ashraf, told reporters while casting his ballot in Rawalpindi on Saturday that the Pakistan People’s Party could not get a “level playing field in these elections,” but it would nevertheless “show its strength in results.”
”I am concerned about future of the country,” Pakistan Muslim League Chief Nawaz Sharif told media while casting his vote in Lahore.