Pakistan votes in national election amid Islamist threats of violence

Pakistanis go to the polls Saturday in what is expected to be a historic transfer of power between democratically elected governments. The campaign season has been marked by violence perpetrated by militant Islamists:

The bombings this week also have sent a message that militants will spare no one involved in the democratic process, which they condemn as a violation of Islamic tenets. Victims now include supporters of a prominent right-wing cleric and parliamentarian, Fazlur Rehman, whose party has sought favor with extremists over the years but also joined coalitions with secular parties. . .

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Where do the leading Pakistani political parties stand on core issues?
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Where do the leading Pakistani political parties stand on core issues?

The Pakistani Taliban has inexorably ratcheted up its attacks on politicians over the weeks and is now warning the public to stay away from the polls or risk death. (Continue reading here.)

Also this week, gunmen kidnapped the son of a former prime minister at a campaign rally:

Hours after his youngest son, Ali Haider Gilani, was kidnapped and two others killed in the attack, ex-premier Yousuf Raza Gilani urged supporters of their Pakistan People’s Party to keep campaigning. The young Gilani is a candidate for the provincial assembly in the Multan district, where the attack occurred and where two of his brothers are running for seats in Parliament. . .

Their father, who served as prime minister for more than four years until he was forced to step down by the Supreme Court in a contempt case last year, accused the temporary caretaker government of not providing sufficient security for candidates. . .

The moderate forces in the country were not being provided with “the favorable environment to campaign and take part in elections,” Yousuf Raza Gilani told reporters at his home in the central city of Multan, adding that his son’s secretary and guard died in the attack. (Read the full article here.)

Although the government has urged voters to trust that a heavy police and army presence will keep them safe at the polls, Gilani and others have criticized the government for failing to protect all parties:

The anti-militant Awami National Party and progressive Muttahida Qaumi Movement, both hard hit by the Pakistani Taliban, also blame the weak interim government for allowing the native anti-state insurgency to effectively rig the vote.

“Our candidates, supporters and workers are facing threats of the Taliban on a daily basis,” said Bashir Jan, the party’s general secretary in Sindh province, who survived a bomb attack few days ago. . .

About 115 people have died in attacks against candidates, party offices and rallies since the month-long campaign season began April 11. The election, which will bring an unprecedented handoff between elected governments, is thought to be the deadliest in the nation’s 65-year history. (Read the full article here.)

Pakistanis are very frustrated with the direction of the country for a number of reasons, including crime, corruption and the danger of Taliban attacks. The Pakistan Muslim League-N, led by the former prime minister and religious conservative Nawaz Sharif, is favored but unlikely to win an outright majority, meaning Sharif would have to form a coalition in Parliament. Read a full profile of Sharif here. One of his rivals, Imran Khan, was injured in a fall at a rally this week. Khan is expected to recover fully, although he has missed the last several days of the campaign.

 
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