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Bomb attacks strike voters in Pakistan

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Violence has erupted as millions head to the polls in Pakistan, with the worst incident seeing at least 27 killed by a bomb in the city of Quetta.

Elsewhere, minor blasts and clashes between party workers left several injured and one dead.

Voters are deciding between the parties of the former cricket star Imran Khan and the disgraced former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

But the campaign has been overshadowed by concerns of fraud and violence.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan says there have been “blatant” attempts to manipulate the polls.

Despite tight security across the country, with more than 370,000 troops deployed to secure the ballot, violence has broken through.

Officials say the attack in Quetta, in the restive province of Balochistan, was a suicide bomb targeting police at the gate of a polling station. An attack earlier this month in nearby Mastung killed at least 149 people in one of Pakistan’s deadliest-ever suicide bombings. It was claimed by the Islamic State group.

Pakistan is no stranger to political turmoil and the last few months have proved no exception. Nawaz Sharif, the man who won the last election, is watching this contest from prison. He has been jailed for corruption after a scandal stemming from the Panama Papers leak.

In an interview with BBC Urdu on Monday, the former prime minister’s daughter Maryam Nawaz – who was jailed earlier this month with her father on related charges – criticized the all-powerful military.

“When a prime minister refuses to put down his head and do their [the military’s] bidding, they pull him down with four things; get a religious fatwa issued against him, call him a traitor, call him a friend of India, or call him corrupt. They use these things against every elected prime minister,” she said.

Women in Pakistan have the right to vote, however many who live in socially conservative areas pressured into not voting.

Authorities are trying to change this with new rules stipulating that at least 10% of voters in each constituency must be women in order for the results to be valid.

Pakistan has been ruled on and off by the military during its 71-year history. This election is significant because it will mark only the second time that one civilian government has handed power to another after serving a full term.

But the run-up to the vote has been controversial.

The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) complains of a targeted crackdown by the powerful security establishment, with the alleged help of the courts, in favour of Imran Khan and his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI).

On Sunday, a judge in the High Court of Islamabad appeared to back up that allegation, saying that the military Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) organisation had been interfering in the judiciary.

Several PML-N candidates also say they have been coerced to switch to the PTI, and nearly 17,000 party members are facing criminal cases over breaking unspecified election rules. The Pakistani military denies interfering in politics.

Independent media, meanwhile, say there have been blatant attempts to muzzle them. There are also serious concerns about the participation of internationally designated militants in the election process.

For all these reasons, the human rights commission has said there are “ample grounds” to question the legitimacy of the polls, “with alarming implications for Pakistan’s transition to an effective democracy”.

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