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Pakistan election 2013: Voters go to the polls in the country's 'most deadly election' as bombs and gunfire kill 22, pushing death toll beyond 130

// Headline
  • Blasts in port city of Karachi kill at least 11 and wound dozens more
  • Six killed in gun battle in restive province of Baluchistan
  • Two more killed when gunmen opened fire near a polling station
  • Three killed in bomb blasts in the northern city of Peshawar
  • Violence erupted as voters streamed to the polls in landmark election
  • More than 130 people killed in run-up to election marred by violence
  • Polling stations will remain open later than planned to accommodate turnout
  • Results expected to start trickling in from around 10pm (1700 GMT)
  • Early count suggests Imran Khan and Nawaz Sharif out in front

By Kerry Mcdermott

PUBLISHED: 02:25 EST, 11 May 2013 | UPDATED: 10:12 EST, 11 May 2013

At least 22 people have been killed in explosions and gunfire across Pakistan today, as the country's historic election was again marred by militant attacks.

The sporadic violence underlined the dangers voters faced as they streamed to the polls for the landmark election, which will bring the first transition between civilian governments in a country ruled by the military for more than half of its turbulent history.

Ten people died in twin blasts targeting the political offices of the Awami National Party (ANP) in Karachi, a roadside bomb in the city killed one other, and three more died in explosions in Peshawar.

In the southwestern province of Baluchistan, gunmen killed two people outside a polling station in the town of Sorab, while a shootout between supporters of two candidates in the town of Chaman left six dead, officials said.

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Explosions: An injured blast victim is pushed to hospital on a stretcher after twin bombs exploded in Karachi on election day in Pakistan

Explosions: An injured blast victim is pushed to hospital on a stretcher after twin bombs exploded in Karachi on election day in Pakistan

Aftermath: There were chaotic scenes in Karachi in the wake of the deadly bomb blasts today, as an ANP supporter in bloodstained clothing (left) dashed inside, while emergency workers tended to the injured (right)

Dazed: A crowd gathered at the site of the explosions in the port city of Karachi this morning

Dazed: A crowd gathered at the site of the explosions in the port city of Karachi this morning

The pockets of violence across the country have left dozens more wounded.

More than 130 people have been killed in bombings and shootings ahead of today's vote, which many observers have called Pakistan's most deadly election.

Ex-cricket star Imran Khan and former prime minister Nawaz Sharif are currently out in front in the race to become leader, according to an early partial count.

The Taliban, which is fighting to topple the U.S.-backed government, regards today's election - in which some 86 million people are eligible to vote - as un-Islamic.

But despite the violence, many see the election - the country's first transition between an elected government fulfilling its term to another - as a key step to solidifying civilian rule for a country that has experienced three military coups.

 VIDEO  Deadly! Wreckage after deadly Karachi election bomb blast 

Restive: A paramilitary soldier stands beside a burning vehicle in the town of Chaman, where a shootout between the supporters of two candidates left six people dead

Restive: A paramilitary soldier stands beside a burning vehicle in the town of Chaman, where a shootout between the supporters of two candidates left six people dead

Peshawar: At least one person has died in a blast in Peshawar as militant attacks marred the country's historic election today

Peshawar: At least one person has died in a blast in Peshawar as militant attacks marred the country's historic election today

Millions made their way to the polls in searing heat, excited about the prospect of change in a country that is plagued with Taliban militancy, a near-failed economy, endemic corruption, chronic power cuts and crumbling infrastructure.

'The team that we elect today will determine whether the rot will be stemmed or whether we will slide further into the abyss,' prominent lawyer Babar Sattar wrote in The News daily.

However, opinion polls have suggested that disenchantment with the two main parties, the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League - Nawaz (PML-N), could mean that no one group emerges with a parliamentary majority, making the next government unstable and too weak to push through much-needed reform.

A late surge of support for the party of former cricketer Imran Khan has made a split mandate all the more likely. Khan, 60, is in hospital after injuring himself in a fall at a party rally, which may also win him sympathy votes.

'The timing of such a split couldn't be worse for Pakistan,' Sattar said. 'The challenge of terror and economic meltdown confronting us won't wait for a party to be granted [a] clear mandate.'

The snaking queues that had formed outside polling stations before they opened at 8am local time were evidence of the determination among many Pakistanis to cast their ballots despite the shadow of terrorist threats.

'Yes, there are fears. But what should we do? 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,' voter Ali Khan said as he waited to cast his ballot in Peshawar today.

Scene: The twin blasts in Karachi, Pakistan, ahead of today's landmark poll left at least 11 people dead, according to early reports

Scene: The twin blasts in Karachi, Pakistan, ahead of today's landmark poll left at least 11 people dead, according to early reports

Wreckage: A group of people survey the wreckage in Karachi in the wake of the fatal explosions on election day today

Wreckage: A group of people survey the wreckage in Karachi in the wake of the fatal explosions on election day today

The vote is being watched closely by Washington since the U.S. relies on the nuclear-armed country's help in fighting Islamic militants and negotiating an end to the war in neighboring Afghanistan.

Khan, who has almost mythical status in Pakistan, has challenged the dominance of the country's two main political parties, making the outcome of the election very hard to call.

He is facing off against the Pakistan Muslim League-N, headed by two-time former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and the Pakistan People's Party, led by President Asif Ali Zardari.

But after five years of inflation, electricity blackouts and militant attacks, the PPP is expected to fare poorly in the vote.

While Sharif has billed himself as the candidate of experience, Khan is trying to tap into the frustrations of millions of Pakistanis who want a change from the traditional politicians who have dominated Pakistani politics for years.

As Pakistanis headed to the polls, there was a sense of excitement among an electorate aware of the historical significance of their vote and the risk they were taking.

'Bombs or terrorist attacks must not stop voters from using their right to vote,' said 70-year-old Islamabad voter Humayon Qaiser.

'People will have to decide what kind of Pakistan they want. If they vote for the wrong party, they will suffer for another five years.'

Violence: Twin explosions killed nine people in Pakistan today as people flooded to the polls to vote in the country's landmark election

Violence: Twin explosions killed 11 people in Pakistan today as people flooded to the polls to vote in the country's landmark election

Defiant: Pakistani women lined up with their children on the outskirts of Islamabad today to cast their votes, despite the threat of terrorist attacks

Defiant: Pakistani women lined up with their children on the outskirts of Islamabad today to cast their votes, despite the threat of terrorist attacks

Under watch: Voters wait for a polling station in Karachi to open as Pakistani paramilitary soldiers stand guard

Under watch: Voters wait for a polling station in Karachi to open as Pakistani paramilitary soldiers stand guard

Security: The number of people killed in the run up to the elections now exceeds 130

Security: The number of people killed in the run up to the elections now exceeds 130

Another voter in the northwestern city of Khar, Mohammed Akbar, said: 'I never voted for anyone in the past, but today my sons asked me to go to polling station, and I am here to vote.

'Imran Khan is promising to bring a good change, and we will support him,' he added.

This week Khan survived a horrific fall off a forklift during a campaign event in the eastern city of Lahore that sent him to the hospital with three broken vertebrae and a broken rib.

He is not expected to vote Saturday because he is unable to travel.

It is uncertain how effective Khan will be in translating his widespread popularity into votes, especially considering he boycotted the 2008 election and only got one seat in 2002.

Turnout will be critical, especially among the youth. Almost half of Pakistan's more than 80 million registered voters are under the age of 35, but young people have tended to stay away from the polls in the past.

Tragedy: Rescue workers stand next to the bodies of victims of the twin bomb blasts in Karachi today

Tragedy: Rescue workers stand next to the bodies of victims of the twin bomb blasts in Karachi today

Democratic: Polling officers show ballot papers at a station in Peshawar, Pakistan today

Democratic: Polling officers show ballot papers at a station in Peshawar, Pakistan today

Courage: The run-up to the election has been marred by violence, but Pakistani voters appeared determined to have their say today

Courage: The run-up to the election has been marred by violence, but Pakistani voters appeared determined to have their say today

Determined: Children play while voters register their ballots in Lahore today, with millions determined to cast their vote despite the shadow cast by terrorist threats

Determined: Children play while voters register their ballots in Lahore today, with millions determined to cast their vote despite the shadow cast by terrorist threats

Landmark: Today's election pits cricket star-turned-politician Imran Khan against two-time former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and the President Asif Ali Zardari

Landmark: Today's election pits cricket star-turned-politician Imran Khan against two-time former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and the President Asif Ali Zardari

Transition: Defiant voters lined up to cast their ballots in Lahore despite sporadic terrorist attacks across the country

Transition: Defiant voters lined up to cast their ballots in Lahore despite sporadic terrorist attacks across the country

It is likely in the province of Punjab, Pakistan's most populous, that this election will be decided.

Sharif and Khan have been battling intensely for support of people across the province in a series of large rallies and campaign events.

On the campaign trail, Sharif pointed out how much more experience he has than Khan and touted key projects he completed while in office, including a highway between the capital Islamabad and his hometown of Lahore.

He's also credited with refraining from attacking the outgoing government and allowing it to finish its full term as a way of strengthening civilian government control.

'It's better to try a lesser evil instead of trying a novice,' said one voter in Lahore, Haji Mohammad Younus.

'The lesser evils at least have the experience of governing. They might be corrupt but they have lately realized that they have to deliver if they want to survive.'

Mythical status: Former cricketer Imran Khan, seen at a rally last week, is standing against the incumbent and a two-time former prime minister

Mythical status: Former cricketer Imran Khan, seen at a rally last week, is standing against the incumbent and a two-time former prime minister

There is concern that the violence could benefit Islamist parties and those who take a softer line toward the militants, including Khan and Sharif, because they were able to campaign more freely.

The outgoing Pakistan People's Party is likely to fare poorly in this election. Voters are fed up with five years of power outages, rising inflation and militant attacks. The party, which rose to power in 2008 in part by widespread sympathy after the death of party leader Benazir Bhutto, has carried out what many regard as a lacklustre campaign this election.

Key players: Two-time former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, left, and leader of the Pakistan's People Party President Asif Ali Zardari, right

Their effort has been hampered by threats of Taliban violence and a lack of high-profile figures who could rally the party faithful.

Benazir Bhutto's son, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, is officially the party chairman and had been expected to play a high-profile role in the election.

But he's appeared at few election events, and was not expected to vote today because he is out of the country.

PAKISTAN'S HISTORIC ELECTION: THE KEY PLAYERS

Today's poll pits a cricket superstar-turned politician against an unpopular incumbent and a two-time former prime minister.

The party of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, the PML-N, looks set to win the most seats in the vote. But the popularity of former cricket star Imran Khan could deprive Sharif of a majority and dash his hopes for a return to power 14 years after he was ousted in a military coup, jailed and later exiled.

A Herald magazine opinion poll this week showed the PML-N remained the front-runner in the Punjab which, with the largest share of parliamentary seats, usually dictates the outcome of elections. But Khan's Tehrik-i-Insaf (PTI)  was close behind, with almost 25 per cent of voters across the country indicating their support for the party.

The poll pointed to an upset for the Pakistan People's Party, whose most prominent figure is President Asif Ali Zardari, which placed third. The president is the widower of assassinated former premier Benazir Bhutto.

Khan, Pakistan's best-known sportsman who led a playboy lifestyle in his younger days, is seen by many as a refreshing change from the dynastic politicians who long relied on a patronage system to win votes and are often accused of corruption.
Khan appeals mostly to young, urban voters because of his calls for an end to corruption, a new political landscape and a halt to U.S. drone strikes on Pakistani soil. About one-third of the country's population is under the age of 30.

Results from nearly 70,000 polling stations nationwide are expected to start trickling in from around 10 p.m. (1700 GMT).

Voters will elect 272 members of the National Assembly and to win a simple majority, a party would have to take 137 seats.

However, the election is complicated by the fact that a further 70 seats, most reserved for women and members of non- Muslim minorities, are allocated to parties on the basis of their performance in the contested constituencies. To have a majority of the total of 342, a party would need 172.

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