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High turnout in Pakistan's landmark elections despite violence

However, claims of voting irregularities in Karachi may affect votes in the country's largest city.

KARACHI — Despite a spate of violence, Pakistan's landmark elections were met with high voter turnout in most parts of the country.

Pakistanis voted today in the national and provincial elections amid Taliban threats of suicide bombing targeting polling stations.

Though elections in the country were mostly free and fair, voting in some of Karachi's constituencies was marred by allegations of rigging and poll stations that opened hours after the designated time.

Tens of thousands of troops were deployed at polling stations in the wake of a Pakistani Taliban threat to carry out suicide attacks during the poll — which marks Pakistan's first transition from one civilian government to another in its 66-year history.

Pakistan sealed its borders with Iran and Afghanistan hours before polls opened, in a bid to keep foreign militants away from civilian polling stations. However, despite precautionary efforts, more than 100 people have been killed by violence in the run-up to the election.

At least thirteen people were killed in Karachi on Saturday, after twin bombs struck the election office of a secular political party's candidate earlier in the day in Pakistan’s commercial hub.

"The target was an election candidate of ANP [Awami National Party]. He was traveling in his car when the bomb exploded," said senior police official Mazhar Nawaz. 

The target of the attack, Amanullah Mehsud, escaped unhurt, Nawaz said. 

Hamida (who only uses her first name), a resident of Karachi's Landhi neighborhood, told GlobalPost that the first blast echoed through her house.

"I made sure my entire family was indoors, and that's when the second blast occurred. My entire house shook, it felt like an earthquake. Car alarms are ringing, people are crying."

Though Hamida had planned to vote today, she instead decided to avoid the polling station.

"We are too scared."

Meanwhile, a bomb attack targeting female voters in Pakistan's northwestern city of Peshawar wounded eight people, according to police.

The Australian Associated Press quoted Shafiullah Khan, a senior police officer, as saying:

"The bomb was planted on a motorcycle. Several people including police have been injured. The motorcycle was parked outside a women's polling station."

Another bombing was also reported after polling stations had closed in Manghopir, injuring 5 people: 

No group has claimed responsibility for the attacks in Karachi, the Press Trust of India wrote.

A blast in Balochistan province killed at least 10 people, though DawnNews cited the death toll higher, at 15. The bomb was set off by remote control, and targeted independent candidate Syed Khadim Hussain Shah's supporters, who were traveling by bus in a convoy, Al Jazeera reported

Also in Balochistan, two people in the town of Sorab were killed by gunmen outside a polling station. A shootout in Chaman between supporters of two different candidates also left six dead. 

More from GlobalPost: Pakistan's Taliban threatens election suicide bombings; Pew poll shows support for US war low

The Elections Committee has also ordered re-polling at over 40 stations in Karachi's NA 250 constituency. 

Many people in the NA 250 district were being told earlier today that their votes would be cast for them, and that they could go home.

GlobalPost's Mariya Karimjee reported from Karachi that many of the polls in the area did not open on time, and that there was a lot of intimidation at several of the voting sites.

The election front-runner is ex-prime minister Nawaz Sharif, head of the center-right Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N).

However, hopes remain high among supporters of the country's former cricket star Imran Khan, who has promised reform, an end to corruption and to cooperation with the US military in its fight against militants.

Khan, 60, leads Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), and gained a last-minute surge of support after fracturing his spine when he fell from a stage at a campaign rally on Tuesday.

Lines, like the one shown below, began forming before polling stations opened at 08:00 a.m. (03:00 GMT) on Saturday. 

Voting was proceeding peacefully in the eastern city of Lahore, EU observers said, while Peshawar and Karachi saw long queues of women waiting to vote —  many for the first time, excited about being part of a historic change.

More than 86 million people are eligible to vote for the 342-member national assembly and four provincial assemblies in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab, Sindh and Balochistan. Voting officially ended at 5 p.m. local time, but was extended by an hour at several sites due to late starts.

Voters were also being told that their ballots could be invalidated if the ink on their thumb ran onto the ballot sheet, or if their ballot was not folded correctly. However, when asked how to fold a ballot, the election commission's presiding officer had no idea, Karimjee reported.

Much of the blame for the voting hiccups in Karachi has been cast on Pakistan's election commission — presiding officers at polling stations were misinformed, disorganized and illiterate, they say. 

Jamaat Islami, an Islamic political party in Pakistan, has decided to withdraw all of their candidates as a boycott to today's election, claiming that the process was neither free nor fair.

However, despite the confusion and possible corruption that has gripped many of the polling stations in Karachi, the real battleground for the election remains in Punjab, the country's most populous state. More than half of the National Assembly seats are up for grabs are in Punjab, so it's the region that has potential to make the most difference when the final election results come in.

Voting has been relatively peaceful in Punjab, and the mood in its capital is currently celebratory and jubilant, Karimjee reported. 

In other parts of the country where voting has not gone quite so smoothly, many voters remain resilient, firmly committed to casting their vote come hell or high temperature.

Batool Akhlaq, a doctor, said that she was going to stay until the doors opened.

"I've waited over five years for this vote, five hours in the heat is nothing," she said. 

Despite the extended polling times, she wasn't optimistic that she'd actually get to vote today, but she said that regardless she was staying until the end.

"This is an absolutely disaster. No idea who's responsible for the sabotage but not letting people vote is terrible," Akhlaq said. 

Her friend, Tanya Shujaat, seemed more relaxed.

"We came to vote for Imran Khan's New Pakistan, and we'll stay until that happens. If not today, then tomorrow." 

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/asia-pacific/pakistan/130511/pakistani-election-karachi-bomb-voting-polls-taliban-suicide-video