Under tight security, Pakistani officials Sunday held a repeat election in a district of violence-plagued Karachi, despite the killing of a senior politician in the city the day before.
Troops, police and paramilitary rangers backed up by armored personnel carriers guarded the 43 polling stations in the NA-250 constituency, following claims of ballot-stuffing there during the May 11 general election.
An election official said turnout was initially assessed at more than 40 percent despite scorching weather and the gunning-down late Saturday of an official from the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party of Imran Khan.
Zohra Hussain, 59, vice president of the party’s women’s wing in Sindh province, was targeted by three men on a motorcycle outside her home in an upmarket part of Karachi.
Her death was the latest following a bloody election campaign marked by more than 150 killings.
Former cricket star Khan was quick to pin the blame on the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) party, which represents the Urdu-speaking majority, and specifically its boss Altaf Hussain, who lives in exile in London.
“I hold Altaf Hussain directly responsible for the murder as he had openly threatened PTI workers and leaders through public broadcasts,” Khan said on his Twitter feed, describing the killing as “a targeted act of terror”.
“I also hold the British Govt responsible as I had warned them about British citizen Altaf Hussain after his open threats to kill PTI workers,” he said, adding that he was “shocked and deeply saddened by the brutal killing”.
Altaf Hussain condemned the attack in a statement and demanded a “judicial inquiry to get to the culprits”.
Firdous Shamim, a local PTI leader, told AFP that Zohra Hussain “was leaving her home for some work when three gunmen attacked her. She thought they wanted to snatch her purse and handed it over to them but they killed her.”
Police said all three gunmen escaped after the attack.
“They shot her with one bullet near her chin and she could not survive,” senior police official Nasir Aftab told AFP.
The motive behind the shooting was unclear and there was no immediate claim of responsibility.
“We are investigating all leads that we have got but cannot say at the moment whether it was an attempted street robbery or a targeted killing,” Aftab said.
Karachi, a city of 18 million people, contributes 42 percent of Pakistan’s GDP but is rife with murder and kidnappings and has been plagued for years by ethnic, sectarian and political violence.
PTI spokesman Jamal Siddiqui said a large number of party leaders and workers would attend Zahra Hussain’s funeral in the city’s Defense area later Sunday.
Tensions have been running high between the PTI and the MQM, Karachi’s dominant party, after Khan’s party accused it of widespread vote-rigging. The MQM denied the charge and announced a boycott of Sunday’s re-run.
The May 11 election marked Pakistan’s first democratic transition of power after an elected government had completed a full term, a milestone in a country with a history of military coups.
“We want a change -- a real change in our country because we are fed up with the current political set up, which is just disappointing,” housewife Arifa Aslam told AFP as she waited in a long queue Sunday to cast her vote.
Polling was also held simultaneously Sunday for two seats in the Sindh provincial assembly.
Latest official partial election results for the whole country confirmed centre-right former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif as the winner nearly 14 years after he was deposed in a coup.
His Pakistan Muslim League (N) so far has 124 out of the 272 directly elected seats in the national assembly while the outgoing Pakistan People’s Party dropped to just 31.
Khan’s PTI moved into third place on 27 seats compared to none in the last assembly.
Pakistan holds repeat poll despite killing