Polls suggest record turnout in Pakistan election despite campaign bombings
At least 87 people have been killed during campaigning for Pakistan’s general election to be held on 11 May, with the bombing of an Islamic party meeting on Monday killing 18. The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for that attack, saying they were targeting Jamaat-Ulema-Islam (JUI) candidate, Munir Khan Orakzai.
The Taliban have declared the vote un-Islamic and threatened to target secular parties who were in the outgoing government.
But Monday’s blast hit a rally in support of JUI, the leading party in the Islamist alliance, Muttahida Majlis e-Amal (MMA).
That is because JUI was also part of the former ruling coalition, which sent the military into the Swat valley in the north-west of the country and into the semi-autonomous tribal agencies.
The deadly blast took place in one of those tribal regions, Kurram.
This is the first election in which candidates have been allowed to stand under a party label in the agencies and the attack’s target was a well-attended JUI rally.
Most of the attacks have been in the north-west and the capital of Sindh province, Karachi, both unstable areas at the best of times, and they've hit the secular Muttahida Qaumi Movement and Awami National Party.
The party that led the outgoing government, the People’s Party (PPP) has dramatically scaled back public activity.
It has cancelled a public appearance by its official leader, Bilawal Bhutto, the 25-year-old son of President Asif Ali Zardari and Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated in 2007.
It is not clear how much effect the violence, which has also included some clashes between supporters of rival parties, will have on the turnout.
Lahore, the capital of Punjab province, has been spared the worst so far and voters here seem determined to cast their ballots.
Describing himself as a “strong supporter” of the opposition Pakistan Muslim League-N, Mohammad Hayat, says he will go and vote because he believes the police have violence under control in Punjab.
“The police in Punjab are much more powerful than any other group, unlike in Sindh or Karachi,” he says. “The police are being very strict. They’re not allowing any cars that aren’t registered in Lahore. They’re keeping a very strict check on everyone who’s coming in and going out of Lahore and that’s why I believe there won’t be any trouble when it comes to polling day in Lahore.”
Hayat, who works as a driver, is furious with the men of violence.
“It’s pretty obvious those people who don’t believe in Pakistan, who don’t want Pakistan to function as a state are attacking and causing all these terrorist activities,” he says. “But they’re mistaken because Pakistan is here to stay and by God’s grace it’s going to be here even a million years after today.”
Syed Hussein, a car salesman, will go to the polls although he is worried.
“The danger is clear and present,” he says. “They’ve sent their message out pretty clearly, but let’s just see how good the government is about providing security to the voting.”
He also has tough words for the powers-that-be.
“It is a dereliction of duty by the government,” he exclaims. “It’s their responsibility to provide security, to create an environment where everybody can go and vote without fear but they’ve not been able to do their job.”
PPP candidate Aziz ur Rehman chan says that it is not the fault of his party and its allies.
The violence is revenge for his party’s efforts in fighting terror, he claims.
“When People’s Party came into power, our foremost agenda was to push terrorism out of this region,” he argues. “Now that it’s election time and the People’s Party government is not in place, those people want to target us and they want to get level with us for hitting their strongholds. And they don’t want us to openly campaign.”
More bloodshed can be expected but many Pakistanis, even in Karachi and the north-west, say they are determined to cast their ballot.
In fact, some polls have even indicated their could be a record turnout, which would be a major sign of rejection of the Taliban and their allies.
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