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"It’s now our turn. We youngsters want our say in national affairs," said voter Rubina Riaz in Lahore.
Khan couldn’t vote Saturday because he was in the hospital following a horrific accident this week at a campaign event in Lahore in which he fell off a forklift and broke three vertebrae and a rib.
Sharif countered the challenge from Khan by pointing out how much more experience in government he has and touting key projects he completed while in office, including a highway between the capital Islamabad and his hometown of Lahore.
"It’s all about delivering," said Nayyar Naseem, a voter in Lahore. "Nawaz Sharif has delivered. He is experienced."
Sharif also relied on old-style Pakistani politics, which focuses on doling out political patronage, such as government jobs, to win the loyalty of voters.
The battleground between Sharif and Khan was in Pakistan’s most populous province, Punjab, where both parties appealed to urban middle class voters. The province contains nearly half of the 272 directly-elected seats in the national assembly.
The outgoing Pakistan People’s Party was expected to fare poorly in the election because of unhappiness with its performance leading the last government. The party, which rose to power in 2008 in part by widespread sympathy after the death of party leader Benazir Bhutto, has carried out what many called a lackluster campaign.
The vote in the southern city of Karachi was not only marred by violence Saturday, but also threats to election commission staff. The commission said it would re-do the vote at 40 polling stations in one constituency in the city.
Sharif inherits a country struggling on a number of fronts. Pakistanis suffer from rolling blackouts that can be as long as 18 hours a day as well as a stuttering economy. The government’s shaky financial situation means it will likely have to seek another unpopular bailout from the International Monetary Fund.
The country is also battling Taliban militants who want to overthrow the government, while on the western border there are fears that a U.S. military departure from Afghanistan will send violence spilling over into Pakistan.
Sharif has favored negotiations with militants in the country’s tribal areas. That could put him at odds with the country’s powerful military, potentially exacerbating a relationship that is already prickly because of the coup carried out against the former prime minister.
While Pakistan has been under civilian rule for the last five years, the military still is considered the country’s most powerful institution and usually makes the major decisions when it comes to militancy or foreign policy issues such as Afghanistan or India.
In what appeared to be a show of support for democracy in Pakistan, the country’s most powerful military officer, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, went to the voting booth himself instead of mailing in his ballot. His gesture was broadcast live on local TV.
Associated Press writers Munir Ahmed and Zarar Khan in Islamabad, Atif Raza in Karachi, Riaz Khan in Peshawar, Rasool Dawar in Mir Ali, Anwarullah Khan in Khar, Abdul Sattar in Quetta, Matiullah Achakzai in Chaman, and Asif Shahzad in Lahore contributed to this report.
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