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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Their effort has been hampered by threats of Taliban violence and a lack of high-profile figures to rally the party. Benazir Bhutto's son, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, is officially the party chairman and had been expected to play a high-profile role in the election.Skip to next paragraph
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But he's appeared at few election events, and was out of the country Saturday.
The election was also marred by reports that some women in the North Waziristan tribal area were not allowed to vote. Clerics using loudspeakers at local mosques in the cities of Mir Ali and Miran Shah urged women to stay home, and none could be seen at the polls.
Women in Pakistan have had to fight extensive discrimination to assert their electoral rights. They represent only about 43 percent of the roughly 86 million registered voters. In many areas, particularly in the conservative northwest, the men decide ahead of the election that women cannot vote.
Polls were scheduled to close at 5 p.m. local time (1200 GMT and 8 a.m. EST) but the commission extended voting for an extra hour across the country and three hours in parts of Karachi.
The election commission said they were investigating reports of a lack of polling staff and materials, and threats to election commission staff in some areas of Karachi.
The election winner will inherit a country struggling on a number of fronts. Pakistanis suffer from rolling blackouts that can be as long as 18 hours a day as well as rising inflation. The country is also battling Islamic militants who want to overthrow the government, while on the western border there are fears that a U.S. military departure from Afghanistan will send violence spilling over into Pakistan.
Both Khan and Sharif have favored negotiations with militants in the country's tribal areas, and Khan has even said he would pull out troops from the borderlands if elected.
That would likely put him at odds with the country's powerful military. While Pakistan has been under civilian rule for the last five years, the military still is considered the country's most powerful institution and usually makes the major decisions when it comes to militancy or foreign policy issues such as Afghanistan or India.
In what appeared to be a show of support for democracy in Pakistan, the country's most powerful military officer, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani went himself to the voting booth — shown live on Pakistani television — instead of mailing in his ballot.
On the eve of the historic vote Pakistan expelled the New York Times correspondent, Declan Walsh.
The newspaper said in an article published on its website Friday that their longtime foreign correspondent was handed a two-sentence letter accusing him of unspecified "undesirable activities" and ordering him to leave.