Counting Begins in landmark Pakistan Polls

By Anam Fayyaz

Polling stations officially closed at 6pm after a “huge” turnout in Punjab, capping a dramatic day that saw bomb attacks kill 12 in Karachi and gunmen shoot dead six in the southwest.

More than 86 million people were eligible to vote at 70,000 polling stations for the 342-member national assembly and four provincial assemblies in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab, Sindh and Balochistan.

It marks the first time that an elected civilian administration has completed a full term and handed power to another through the ballot box in a country where there have been three military coups and four military rulers.

The front-runner is ex-prime minister Nawaz Sharif, head of the Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N), but much of the campaign has been electrified by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf chief Imran Khan with promises of reform and an end to corruption.

Sharif voted in Lahore, driven in a bulletproof vehicle and greeted with roars of “long live the lion” from supporters using his nickname.

“I am confident that tonight we will start receiving good news from across the country,” Sharif told reporters after casting his vote.

There were festive scenes in Lahore where cars, motorbikes and rickshaws festooned with party banners blared out music, while voters draped in flags shouted slogans.

“People have been up all night, actually I haven’t slept, a lot of my friends haven’t slept. People just wanted to come out and do this, because we never had this chance,” said Natasha Ejaz, a singer, in Islamabad.

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