Skip to main content

Beset by economic and security issues, Pakistanis cast pivotal votes

By Peter Shadbolt and Greg Botelho, CNN
updated 11:11 PM EDT, Fri May 10, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Several parties jockey for leadership as Pakistanis head to polls
  • Pakistan's struggling economy is beset by high unemployment, poverty
  • Security is also a problem, especially given threats from Islamic extremists
  • 600,000 security personnel and 75,000 troops deploy for elections, officials say

(CNN) -- Pakistanis headed to the polls Saturday for what could be a historic vote in terms of establishing the country's democratic bona fides as well as determining its future as it faces an array of issues from high unemployment to overpopulation and terrorism.

This year's election has been hailed as one of the most democratic to date for a nation that for much of its 66-year existence has had military rulers.

According to the Election Commission of Pakistan, there will be 36 million new voters among the 86 million registered to vote. Plus, more than double the number of candidates will be women, with 161 running versus the 64 who contested the 2008 poll, according to U.N. Women.

Yet the economic, political and security situation in Pakistan isn't especially stable.

Imran Khan, head of Pakistan's Tehreek-e-Insaf party, leaves the hospital in Lahore, Pakistan, on Wednesday, May 22. Khan suffered spinal fractures and a head injury when he toppled from a forklift that was raising him up to a stage as he campaigned in Lahore for elections held on May 11. Victory in the elections went to Nawaz Sharif, a two-time former prime minister, and his party, the Pakistan Muslim League. Imran Khan, head of Pakistan's Tehreek-e-Insaf party, leaves the hospital in Lahore, Pakistan, on Wednesday, May 22. Khan suffered spinal fractures and a head injury when he toppled from a forklift that was raising him up to a stage as he campaigned in Lahore for elections held on May 11. Victory in the elections went to Nawaz Sharif, a two-time former prime minister, and his party, the Pakistan Muslim League.
High turnout, violence mark Pakistan elections
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
>
>>
Photos: High turnout, violence mark Pakistan elections Photos: High turnout, violence mark Pakistan elections
Pakistan's election: What's at stake?
Violence plagues Pakistani election
Pakistani hope for election

Beyond high inflation and poverty rates, Pakistan has also seen spurts of violence, in some cases engineered by Islamic extremists.

Since April, the Taliban in Pakistan has killed dozens of people in attacks on the three main political parties. Many urban voters and parties regard resurgent fundamentalism as one of the biggest threats to Pakistan.

More than 600,000 security personnel have been deployed nationwide to safeguard the election, Information Minister Arif Nizami said Friday. Pakistan's army, which helped deliver 650 tons of ballots to polling stations, will have 75,000 troops out around the country, a military spokesman said.

The governing Pakistan People's Party is led by Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the son of assassinated former prime minister and party leader Benazir Bhutto. But in an indication of the danger facing politicians, Bhutto Zardari won't be out for Saturday's vote because of security threats, according to Pakistan's Dawn newspaper.

While his party became the first civilian government to complete a full five-year term -- the three governments after the death in 1988 of military strongman Zia ul-Haq were all brought down by the army -- its legacy is a deeply fractured country with a faltering economy.

The PPP's main opposition comes from the Pakistan Muslim League-N, led by one of the country's leading industrialists and richest men, Nawaz Sharif. He's been prime minister twice before and was overthrown in a coup and exiled when Gen. Pervez Musharraf seized power in 1999.

Viewed as a religious conservative, his party -- Pakistan's second largest -- believes it would have won elections in 2008 had the assassination of Bhutto not given a massive boost to the ruling PPP.

Another contender for leadership is Imran Khan, the former star cricketer and heartthrob who leads the Tehreek-e-Insaf (Movement for Justice) party.

Not in contention is Musharraf, who returned in March from four years of self-imposed exile to take part in the elections. But he's been banned by a court from taking part in politics and his party, the All Pakistan Muslim League, has announced a boycott.

Musharraf and his allies weren't the only ones upset with Pakistan's leadership ahead of the election. The New York Times "strongly protested" the expulsion of its Islamabad bureau chief -- an order that Declan Walsh received at 12:30 a.m. locally, at his home.

The Committee to Protect Journalists joined the Times in slamming the move, with its Asia program coordinator Bob Dietz writing that the move suggests "a need to intimidate foreign and local journalists."

"The expulsion of Declan Walsh shows just how much the authorities fear independent media coverage," said Dietz.

CNN's Shaan Khan contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
Pakistan votes
updated 7:14 AM EDT, Thu May 16, 2013
Nawaz Sharif and his party are on the hook to produce change for over 180 million Pakistanis -- and there is a lot to change.
updated 7:34 AM EDT, Mon May 13, 2013
Never before in Pakistan's history has a parliamentary election resulted in a true democratic transition. Despite threats and attacks, Pakistanis bravely voted in record numbers. 
updated 3:59 AM EDT, Fri May 10, 2013
The strongest contender to become the next Pakistani prime minister is hardly a newcomer to the country's political stage.
updated 4:04 PM EDT, Tue May 7, 2013
CNN's Christiane Amanpour looks at how Imran Khan's dramatic fall might affect his campaigning just ahead of elections.
updated 1:41 AM EDT, Thu May 9, 2013
Nusrat Begum is from Pakistan's conservative tribal region. She's bidding to do the unthinkable -- run for the nation's Parliament.
updated 3:49 AM EDT, Fri May 10, 2013
Scores have been killed in attacks on campaigns in the weeks leading up to this Saturday's election.
updated 1:59 PM EDT, Wed May 8, 2013
What concerns Pakistan's voters? Like most people around the world, they care about the economy and whether they have a job.
updated 11:28 PM EDT, Sun May 5, 2013
From a former PM and industrialist to the one-time captain of Pakistan's cricket team, Saima Mohsin says voters have a diverse range of candidates to ponder.
updated 12:06 AM EDT, Sat April 20, 2013
Pervez Musharraf recently returned to Pakistan after five years in exile, determined to face down his challengers in the courtroom and make a sensational return to politics.
ADVERTISEMENT