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Pakistanis vote in historic election even as violence looms

The vote will be the first in Pakistan's history from one elected government at the end of its term to another.

By Atif Raza and Munir AhmedThe Associated Press / May 11, 2013

A voter signs a ballot with a thumb impression in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, during Saturday's election.

B.K. Bangash/AP

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Defying threats of violence, Pakistanis streamed to the polls Saturday for a historic vote pitting a former cricket star against a two-time prime minister and an unpopular incumbent. But militant attacks that killed 20 people underlined the risks many people took just casting their ballots.

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The violence was a continuation of what has been a bloody election season, with more than 130 people killed in bombings and shootings. Some are calling this one of the deadliest votes in the country's history.

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 solidify civilian rule in a country that has experienced three military coups.

With the Pakistani Taliban threatening to target political parties in the vote, the government deployed an estimated 600,000 security personnel across the country to protect polling sites and voters.

Many Pakistanis seemed determined to cast their ballots despite the violence.

"Yes, there are fears. But what should we do?" said Ali Khan, who was waiting to vote in the northwestern city of Peshawar, where one of the blasts took place Saturday. "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."

That exuberance seemed to be widespread. The secretary of the election commission, Ahmed Khan, told reporters in Islamabad that he expected the turnout to be "massive."

The election is being watched closely by the United States, which relies on the nuclear-armed country for help fighting Islamic militants and negotiating an end to the war in neighboring Afghanistan.

This vote is notable for more than just the historic handoff of power from one civilian government to another.

The rise of former cricket star Imran Khan has reshaped the Pakistani political scene, challenging the stranglehold of the country's two main parties and making the outcome of the vote very hard to call.

The 60-year-old Khan 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.

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 politicians who have dominated the nation's politics for years.

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