Islamabad/Lahore: Defying Taliban death threats, enthusiastic Pakistanis in large numbers on Saturday voted for national and provincial assemblies in a landmark democratic transition of power marred by a string of bomb attacks killing at least 17 people. A staggering 75,000 security personnel, including 5,000 troops for sensitive polling stations Taliban-dominated restive areas in northwest, were deployed to ensure smooth conduct of the exercise.
The Election Commission of Pakistan extended the time of voting by one hour till 6 pm (local time) as large number of voters were seen standing in queues to exercise their franchise. A total of 4,670 candidates are standing for the 342-member National Assembly while nearly 11,000 are running for the four provincial assemblies in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab, Sindh and Baluchistan. The main contenders are the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), which has been ruling the country, Pakistab Muslim League - Nawaz (PML-N) led by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) headed by cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan.
The PML-N and Khan's party were the only major political forces that were able to conduct a nationwide campaign after the banned Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan warned that it would target leaders and rallies of the secular-leaning PPP, Awami National Party (AWP) and Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), which were part of the outgoing coalition.
The Election Commission of Pakistan termed the turnout as "very good" across the country in general without specifying the precise figure. The largest province of Punjab saw a huge turnout, it said. More than 86 million people were eligible to vote in the polls. The process of counting of votes began as polling closed and the trends are expected by early morning on Sunday.
The high turnout came despite direct threats from the outlawed Taliban to launch attacks on election day. Thirteen people were killed and over 40 others injured in three bomb attacks in the southern port city of Karachi. The first blast went off near the election office of Amanullah Mehsud, an Awami National Party candidate contesting polls to the Sindh Assembly. Mehsud escaped unhurt though several ANP workers were among the dead and injured.