Pakistan set for historic, unpredictable election
Supporters of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf or Moment for Justice party attend an election campaign rally in Islamabad, Pakistan, Thursday, May 9, 2013. Pakistan is scheduled to hold parliamentary elections on May 11, the first transition between democratically elected governments in a country that has experienced three military coups and constant political instability since its creation in 1947. The parliament's ability to complete its five-year term has been hailed as a significant achievement. (AP Photo/Anjum Naveed)
A Pakistani supporter of former cricket star-turned-politician, and leader of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, Imran Khan, talks with another from his car decorated with pictures bearing the image of Khan, in Islamabad, Pakistan, Friday, May 10, 2013. An especially violent spate of killings, kidnappings and bombings marred the run-up to Pakistan's nationwide election, capped Thursday by the abduction of the son of a former prime minister as he was rallying supporters on the last day of campaigning before the historic vote. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)
A Pakistani army soldier, guards election material provided to polling agents for tomorrow's elections, in Islamabad, Pakistan, Friday, May 10, 2013. An especially violent spate of killings, kidnappings and bombings marred the run-up to Pakistan's nationwide election, capped Thursday by the abduction of the son of a former prime minister as he was rallying supporters on the last day of campaigning before the historic vote. (AP Photo/B.K. Bangash)
Despite a bloody campaign marred by Taliban attacks, Pakistan held historic elections today pitting a former cricket star against a two-time prime minister once exiled by the army and an incumbent blamed for power blackouts and inflation.
The vote marks the first time in Pakistan’s 65-year history that a civilian government has completed its full term and handed over power in democratic elections. Previous governments have been toppled by military coups or sacked by presidents allied with the powerful army.
Violence struck again yesterday, with a pair of bombings against election offices in northwest Pakistan that killed three people and a shooting that killed a candidate in the southern city of Karachi. More than 130 people have been killed in the run-up to the vote, mostly secular party candidates and workers. Most attacks have been traced to Taliban militants, who have vowed to disrupt a democratic process they say runs counter to Islam.
The vote is being watched closely by Washington since the United States relies on the nuclear-armed country of 180 million people for help in fighting Islamic militants and negotiating an end to the war in neighboring Afghanistan.
The rise of former cricket star Imran 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.
“I think it is the most unpredictable election Pakistan has ever had,” said Moeed Yusuf, South Asia adviser at the United States Institute of Peace. “The two-party dominance has broken down, and now you have a real third force challenging these parties.”