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Nawaz Sharif, Imran Khan elected to parliament

Nawaz Sharif, Imran Khan elected to parliament

Lahore: The front-runners in Pakistan's landmark general election won their seats late Saturday after millions of people defied deadly Taliban attacks to take part in a historic democratic transition.

First results began coming through around four hours after polling stations closed at 6:00 pm (1300 GMT), having been extended because of the large numbers of people waiting to vote on a dramatic day in which 24 people were killed.

The main issues are the tanking economy, an appalling energy crisis that causes power cuts of up to 20 hours a day, the alliance in the US-led war on Islamist militants, chronic corruption and the dire need for development.

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 centre-right Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N), but the campaign has been electrified by cricket star Imran Khan with promises of reform and an end to corruption.

Both leaders won seats they had contested in -- Khan defeated a strong incumbent in Peshawar, while Nawaz won in the town of Sargodha in his Punjab heartland -- with the results announced within minutes of each other.

At PML-N headquarters in the eastern city of Lahore about 300 to 400 supporters who were watching the results coming in on television let out a huge cheer when Sharif's win was announced.

There was no immediate reaction from Khan, who is flat on his back in hospital with broken vertebrae after falling from the stage of an election rally on Tuesday, which prevented him from even voting.

"People have expressed confidence in Imran Khan and have rejected us," former cabinet minister and senior Awami National Party (ANP) member Ghulam Bilour told private Express TV. The seat in Peshawar was one of four that Khan contested.

"I congratulate him," Bilour told the TV channel. The secular ANP led the outgoing government in northwestern province Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, of which Peshawar is the capital.

With no reliable polling data, Sharif has been earmarked the most probable winner, but if PTI do well enough to become a formidable opposition there are concerns that the emergent coalition will be weak and possibly short-lived.

An election commission spokesman said turnout was more than 50 percent and expected to reach up to 60 percent, which would make it the highest since 1977.

More than 86 million people were eligible to vote for the 342-member national assembly and four provincial assemblies in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab, Sindh and Baluchistan.

Election fever gripped Lahore, where cars, motorbikes and rickshaws festooned with party banners blared out music, and voters draped in flags shouted slogans.

"We're really enjoying this moment -- people are very much happy about the chance to have change," said 50-year-old Rashid Saleem Butt.

Earlier, queues formed outside polling stations in Pakistan's main cities where people spoke enthusiastically about exercising their democratic right and voting for change, although some expressed nervousness about security.

Voting in Pakistan's financial hub Karachi was marred by allegations of rigging from rival parties, and the election commission ordered a re-vote in more than 30 polling stations in one constituency over accusations of ballot stuffing.

Taliban bombers targeted an ANP candidate, killing 11 other people, including a small child, and wounding around 40, police said. Another person was killed and three wounded when a low-intensity bomb exploded in a bus elsewhere in the city.

Gunmen shot dead ten people in the restive southwest province of Balochistan, where turnout was low, while two people were killed and 11 wounded when a remote-controlled bomb exploded outside a polling station in a Peshawar suburb.

Police said five paramilitary soldiers in the west of Karachi were wounded by a suicide-bomber on an explosive-laden motorbike.

Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islami boycotted polls in Karachi after accusing the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), which controls the city, of fraud and violence.

The MQM denied the allegations.

The election commission raised concerns about threats to its staff in the port city, which it says prevented them from performing their duties

But the organisation was quick to praise the polls as voting ended, with commision secretary Ishtiaq Ahmed saying: "Ninety-nine percent of our job was correct and all the matters were accurate."

Analyst Imtiaz Gul said he believed high turnout was due to Khan galvanising millions of first-time voters, although he cautioned it may not necessarily translate into seats.

More than 600,000 security personnel deployed to protect the vote and Pakistan sealed its border with Afghanistan and Iran to boost security after pre-election violence killed at least 127 people, according to an AFP tally.

The outgoing centre-left PPP ran a lacklustre campaign, with its chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari too young to run and hounded by security threats.

Sharif served as prime minister from 1990-93, when he was sacked for corruption, and from 1997-99, when he was deposed by the military, although his family say he is a changed man who will this time govern more successfully.


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