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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.

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"I never voted for anyone in the past, but today my sons asked me to go to the polling station, and I am here to vote," said Mohammed Akbar in the northwestern city of Khar. "Imran Khan is promising to bring a good change, and we will support him."

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Khan survived a horrific fall off a forklift during a campaign event Tuesday in the eastern city of Lahore that sent him to the hospital with three broken vertebrae and a broken rib. He is not believed to have voted Saturday because he couldn't travel to his polling place.

Nobody is sure how effective he 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 often stayed away from the polls in the past.

The election's outcome is likely riding on the tally in the province of Punjab, Pakistan's most populous, where Sharif and Khan have been dueling for the people's support with a series of large rallies and campaign events.

Even on election day the excitement was evident. In Lahore, which has not been touched by the pre-election violence seen in other parts of Pakistan, Sharif supporters carried stuffed tigers — the party's election symbol — and Khan followers carried cricket bats as they chanted slogans in favor of their candidates.

As Sharif cast his ballot at a Lahore voting station, supporters serenaded him with chants of "Lion! Lion!"

"We brought change before. We will bring change again," he said.

On the campaign trail, Sharif played up his extensive political experience compared to Khan's, and touted key projects he completed while in office, including a highway between the capital Islamabad and Lahore.

"It's better to try a lesser evil instead of trying a novice," said one Lahore voter, 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."

The mood remained jubilant despite a series of attacks that marred the vote in some districts.

The deadliest violence struck Karachi, where twin blasts blew up outside an office of the Awami National Party, one of three secular liberal parties that have been targeted by Taliban militants during the campaign, said police officer Shabir Hussain. Ten people died in the attack and 30 were wounded.

A roadside bomb in Karachi also killed one person riding in a bus of ANP supporters, while in the northwestern city of Peshawar a blast outside a polling station killed one person and wounded 10 others.

In the southwestern province of Baluchistan, gunmen killed two people outside a polling station in the town of Sorab and a shootout between supporters of two candidates in the town of Chaman killed 6 people, officials said.

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 called a lackluster campaign.


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