Defying threats of violence, Pakistanis streamed to the polls today for a historic vote pitting a former cricket star against a two-time prime minister and an unpopular incumbent. But militant attacks that killed 22 people underlined the risks many people took just casting their ballots.The violence was a continuation of what has been a bloody election season, with more than 130 people killed in bombings and shootings. Despite the violence, many see the election—the country's first transition between an elected government fulfilling its term to another—as a key step to solidify civilian rule in a country that has experienced three military coups.
This vote is notable for more than just the historic handoff of power. The rise of former cricket star Imran Khan has reshaped the Pakistani political scene, challenging the stranglehold of the country's two main parties and making the outcome tough to call. The 60-year-old Khan is facing off against the Pakistan Muslim League-N, headed by two-time former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, and the Pakistan People's Party, led by President Asif Ali Zardari. While Sharif has billed himself as the candidate of experience, Khan is trying to tap into the frustrations of millions of Pakistanis who want a change from the politicians who have dominated the nation for years.