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Counting under way in Pakistan’s national election

ISLAMABAD, May 11 (UPI) — Millions of Pakistanis voted Saturday in the country’s first election to mark a transfer of power from one civilian government to another.

The polls closed at 6 p.m., The Nation, a Pakistani newspaper reported. In a few districts in Karachi, the country’s largest city, voting stations remained open until 8 p.m. after getting off to a late start.

The campaign has been marred by violence, which continued on election day with at least 17 deaths, The New York Times reported. In Karachi, 11 people died in a bombing at a political office.

It’s Pakistan’s 10th election since 1970, but the first in which a civilian government has peacefully handed power to a new administration. The balloting also has seen the least interference from the military. It’s also arguably seen the most enthusiastic involvement by voters and candidates alike.

Some 4,670 candidates are contesting 272 seats in parliament, and 11,000 people are seeking positions in the four provincial assemblies. For the first time, women ran for office in tribal regions along the Afghan border.

The ballot diversity has attracted voters. At one voting station, 300 women dressed in burqas stood in line. One of them, a 35-year-old doctor, said she had never voted before.

The BBC said long lines of women were seen waiting to vote in Peshawar, along with many first-time voters.

Focus in parliamentary campaigning has narrowed to the Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) party led by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaff (PTI) party of former cricket star Imran Khan. Sharif says he wants to establish a new relationship with the United States and negotiate with Taliban insurgents. Khan says he also wants to negotiate with the Taliban, but would shoot down American drones.

Sharif’s party is favored to win but is not likely to gain a majority.

In the run-up to the election, police set up new checkpoints to curb threats from the Taliban to disrupt the voting with suicide bombers. Hospital staff have been put on alert. More than 600,000 soldiers and security forces have been deployed to guard against possible attacks.

The election has not gone without controversy, Dawn News reported.

Both PML-N and PTI have called for the election results in Karachi to be rejected. Local PML-N leader Nihal Hashmi charged voting there has been tainted because people he described as terrorists were running the voting stations. Another party, the Mahajir Qaumi Movement, said it was boycotting the elections.

An unconfirmed report said one candidate had been kidnapped, and no women had showed up to vote in the Lower Dir district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa after a local council decided they shouldn’t.

Election officials said some 30 percent of voters had cast ballots by midday, the BBC reported. A spokesman said the election commission hoped the figure would be 60 to 80 percent by the time the polls closed Saturday. In 2008, 44 percent voted.

European Union observers in Lahore said voting was going smoothly. In Karachi, voting was delayed because ballot boxes and voting materials had not yet arrived.

Copyright 2013 United Press International, Inc. (UPI).

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