Pakistan began counting votes from its landmark parliamentary election after polls were extended for an hour to enable long lines of people to take part.
Polling centers stopped admitting new voters at 6 p.m. though those already queuing were allowed to participate. In seven constituencies in Karachi, the financial capital, voting will continue until 8.p.m. after allegations of irregularities. There were no immediate estimates of voter turnout. The first provisional results may come around midnight.
Recent polls indicated no party getting more than 50 percent of the total in the parliament ballot. Two-time Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s Muslim League was forecast to win more seats than the Peoples Party of President Asif Ali Zardari, with a group led by former cricket star Imran Khan aiming for an upset with a slate of mostly first-time politicians that’s appealing to young voters.
The next government will need to move swiftly to curb militancy that has escalated since campaigning began in March, with a bombing in Karachi today killing 11 people. The target was a candidate of the Awami National Party, who was unhurt. Poll-related violence has killed at least 136 people. A new administration will also face the challenge of reviving an economy wracked by a power-supply crisis that officials said sliced 2 percentage points off growth in the last fiscal year.
Khan’s supporters were out in force at polling centers in upmarket areas of Karachi. Many had waited up to four hours to vote, a delay they blamed on poor organization.
“We need a captain,” Misbah Khalid, 45, a television producer, said at one station in a reference to Khan’s 1992 lead role in winning Pakistan cricket’s world cup. “People are fainting in the heat but still they aren’t going home.”
The parties of Khan and Sharif alleged rigging and malpractice in Karachi and said the results would be questionable. Jamaat-e-Islami and Sunni Ittehad Council, two religious parties, withdrew candidates from Karachi for the same reason. Polling staff weren’t present and the delivery of ballot boxes was delayed across the city, they said.
Sharif, 63, received 37 percent support in a Gallup Pakistan survey in March, double that of the Peoples Party or Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf group.
“No party seems to be sweeping the polls,” Hasan-Askari Rizvi, a Lahore-based political analyst and former professor at the University of Punjab, who has written books on Pakistan, said by phone on May 7. “In the case of a coalition government, dealing with these problems will be a huge task.”
The election marks an unprecedented transfer of power between civilian governments, an achievement in a country ruled for half its history by the army.
For the first time, singers, actors and models appealed on television for people to cast their vote. GEO television, a leading private channel, aired patriotic songs and public service messages to persuade women to cast their ballot for a better future for their children.
Gun and bomb attacks on election candidates have underscored the insecurity that plagues the economy and Pakistan’s people. Militants have struck parties that have most aggressively criticized the Taliban insurgency. The insurgents, who have links to guerrillas in Afghanistan and are fighting to overthrow the government, have a stronghold in the northwest.
Sharif has vowed to seek a consensus with opposition parties and the army if elected to counter militancy that has led to 40,000 deaths in the world’s second-most populous Muslim nation since 2001. He has said he’s open to talks with the Taliban.
Investors have yet to signal concern about any prolonged political jockeying, with the Karachi Stock Exchange’s 100-share index surging 18 percent this year. Boosted by higher consumer spending, earnings of companies in the benchmark gauge rose 43 percent in the past 12 months, the most among 17 Asian equity indexes, data compiled by Bloomberg show.
During the five-year rule of the Peoples Party that ended in March, growth in the $210 billion economy slumped to an average 3 percent as power cuts as long as 18 hours a day shut factories and terrorism deterred investment. The growth rate was less than half the annual pace of the previous five years.
Khan, 60, who cut short his campaign May 7 after falling at a rally, has vowed not to join a coalition led by opponents he describes as representing a failed elitist politics.
He gathered 200,000 people at rallies for his Movement for Justice over the last two years as a social-media driven message to end graft, improve education and tax the wealthy appealed to the third of the electorate under the age of 29.
About half of Pakistan’s 180 million people were registered to vote today. The military stationed 70,000 troops to help secure polling centers. In Karachi, police and paramilitary troops were positioned inside vote stations.
Around 6,800 candidates contested 268 of 272 directly elected seats in the 342-member lower house of parliament, according to the Dawn newspaper. Elections in four constituencies were canceled after the death of candidates, it said.
Seventy parliamentary spots are reserved for women and religious minorities and will be filled in proportion to the parties’ poll standing. Voters also elected four regional assemblies.