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Pakistan's National Elections Are Marred By Violence


Polls are now closed in Pakistan. Tens of millions of people turned out today to vote in national elections. There was also violence this election day, including a suicide bombing that killed at least 28 people. And there were allegations of election interference. NPR's Diaa Hadid was covering the elections for us from Islamabad. We spoke to her earlier today.

DIAA HADID, BYLINE: Good morning.

KING: All right, let's start with this violence today, this suicide bombing. What happened there?

HADID: So there was a suicide bombing in Quetta. ISIS claimed responsibility. It seemed to have targeted a police van, and it killed more than 28 people. It wasn't directly related to the elections, but it does reflect how much violence has occurred in the lead-up to these elections that have targeted candidates and their rallies. There was one attack in a provincial town where a suicide bomber killed more than 150 people at an election rally.

KING: Wow. So this is an election with certainly a lot going on in the background. Let me ask you about the contest itself. Who are the main candidates in this race?

HADID: So there's two main parties, and polls show that they are neck and neck. One is led by a Pakistani sporting legend called Imran Khan, and he's challenging the old ruling party. That's led by a fellow called Nawaz Sharif. Now, Sharif alleges that the military has intervened in the run-up to these elections to curb his party's chances. He's currently in prison right now on a corruption case. And he says that was cooked up to prevent him from campaigning. There's certainly been a crackdown on media seen as sympathetic to the Sharifs.

Now, amid these allegations, we've seen more than 300,000 security forces from the army fan out to protect the polling booths. But because of these allegations, Sharif and other parties say the soldiers aren't there to guard the elections, they're there to intimidate voters.

KING: Well, you were at a polling station earlier. And I wondered - did you see soldiers? And did people appear to find them threatening?

HADID: Right. So we were at a boys' school this morning that's been converted into a polling station. It was down a middle-class street, you know, tree-lined, birds chirping. There were posters neatly pasted explaining to people how to vote. Yes, and inside the polling station, there was an armed guard patrolling the area. And yet, nobody seemed fazed by this. There was also representatives from all the parties who were monitoring the elections. And there were also volunteer election officials. And I spoke to one of them. His name is Mohamed Javed Iqbal. And he was pretty emotional about the whole thing. It's only the second time Pakistan has had a peaceful transition of power between one civilian government to another. And he was just so pleased to be a part of it.

MOHAMED JAVED IQBAL: This is my country. I'm working hard for this country.

KING: That is a nice thing to hear. Pakistan is also a very conservative country. Did you see women voters out today?

HADID: Yeah, I did. They were actually in a separate room. They have gender-segregated polling booths. And the women were neatly lined up. One woman was pushing another woman in a wheelchair. And there was a real sense of excitement in the room. And I spoke to one woman who'd just voted. Her name is Mariyam Farroukh. She's 22 years old. It's the first time she's voted. And she said she voted for Imran Khan's party. It's called the PTI.

MARIYAM FARROUKH: Yeah. It's my first time voting. I was very passionate to vote for PTI, so that's why (laughter). I just feel that if Imran Khan is in power, then obviously, education standards of Pakistan will be raised to another level, inshallah.

HADID: And just about everyone I spoke to said they were voting for Imran Khan. He's very popular in Islamabad. He's seen as a man that will transform Pakistan. And honestly, people really didn't pay much heed to all the allegations that have marred these elections.

KING: NPR's Diaa Hadid in Islamabad covering the elections there. Thank you, Diaa.

HADID: Thank you.


Diaa Hadid chiefly covers Pakistan and Afghanistan for NPR News. She is based in NPR's bureau in Islamabad. There, Hadid and her team were awarded a Murrow in 2019 for hard news for their story on why abortion rates in Pakistan are among the highest in the world.
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