Pakistani Voting, Re-Run Ordered

youth vote in Pakistan
While voting continues in Pakistan, officials have ordered a “do-over” in some sections of Karachi.

Despite threats by the Taliban, some of which were carried out, voters turned out in large numbers Saturday in Pakistan’s landmark election.

“The election commission of Pakistan was successful in conducting the elections. We have a huge turnout in Punjab,” commission secretary Ishtiaq Ahmad told a news conference.

Pakistani men and women left fear behind and went to the polls.  In what was described as a “happy” atmosphere, the large numbers influenced a decision by the election commission.

“A decision has been taken to extend the voting time by one hour,” spokesman Altaf Ahmed said just minutes before the polls were due to close, at 1200 GMT.

Estimates of voter turnout are expected to reach 60%, which would be the highest since 1977.  In 2008, the turnout was under 44%.

Lahore, the capital of Punjab province elects just over one-half of the seats in the national assembly.  There was a joyous atmosphere demonstrated by colorful banners streaming from passing cars, motorbikes, and rickshaws.  Supporters were draped in flags and headbands and were shouting slogans.

Rashid Saleem Butt, 50, said he had always supported the centre-right Pakistan Muslim League-N party that many expect to win, but switched to the rising Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party of cricket star Imran Khan. “It’s a very happy atmosphere,” he said.

“We’re really enjoying this moment, people are very much happy about the chance to have change.”

On the downside, the Taliban did carry out threatened attacks, but they were wide-spread, and 14 people were reported killed.

The historic election marks the first time in the nation’s history that a civilian government finished its term, and handed it over to a succeeding civilian government.

For decades, Pakistan has been ruled either by the military or its two main parties, the outgoing Pakistan People’s Party, and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz led by veteran politician Nawaz Sharif.

Imran Khan, a former cricket player, is leading the Pakistani Tehreek-e-Insaf, or PTI party, and has vowed to make change in the country.

University student and first-time voter Noor Ul Aein, is excited.

“This is the first time that I believe that we have hope, and we need a miracle, and I hope whatever happens, happens for the best, because we really do need a miracle,” said Noor Ul Aein. “Since I have been born I have been hearing bad things, suppression, depressions in the economy, everything so I think we really need a miracle right now and we have hope, and we have hope this time, we really do. Vote for change and vote for “naya” (new) Pakistan.”

Militants and extremists from the northwestern tribal areas down to the commercial city of Karachi repeatedly bomb and attack civilians and security forces in Pakistan.

In the past week at least 100 people were killed in the north as the election approached.  But the inhabitants vowed not to allow fear tactics to keep them from the polls.

University student Kanza Shakeel and her family live in the bomb-targeted city of Quetta, and proudly and defiantly cast their ballots.

“My family all, my relatives also here today, we are sitting in front of TV, and eating lunch, dinner, everything in front of TV, and just hearing news, nothing else, we are just hearing news, and we are just waiting to get good news,” said Shakeel.

James Turnage

Columnist-The Guardian Express

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