ISLAMABAD — Next month, Pakistan holds its first election in five years and campaign-related violence is already having an impact. Deadly attacks have targeted secular politicians and their supporters. Other candidates and voters have been intimidated by militants.
Militants are hitting early election rallies hard in Pakistan. The victims of one blast: supporters of the secular Awami National Party.
The Taliban has threatened the largely secular parties of ANP, its partner, the Pakistan People’s Party and MQM in the southern city Karachi.
Accountant Abdul Basit Javed says the threat of violence will not stop him from voting.
“There is a lot of turmoil and pain and agony going on in the country and, in this situation, we need to come out of our homes and we need to cast our votes, so that the situation of our country do [does] change,” Javed said.
Others are less optimistic. Muddassir Rizvi of the Free and Fair Election Network says parties that have taken a stand against militants are being targeted, reducing their ability to rally supporters.
“With these three rather more center or centrist parties being targeted, who have a very clearly defined policy on Talibanization and terrorism, we see this is creating a very un-level playing field for political contenders vying for power in the next general elections,” Rizvi said.
In the last national elections in 2008, militants killed candidate and former prime minister Benazir Bhutto. Violence delayed the vote by six weeks.
This time, some parties are relying on technology like cell phone messages and social media to reach potential voters, without risking big gatherings.
As authorities increase security in the run-up to the May 11 vote, analyst Moeed Yusuf of the United States Institute of Peace says it is unlikely that attacks will be able to derail the democratic process.
“So my guess is that you are going to have violence. You are going to have unfortunate incidents. But it won’t blow out of proportion to the point where you basically can’t hold an election. I think elections will be held in very tense circumstances, but they will be held ultimately,” Yusuf said.
After years of violence, Pakistanis expected the campaign season would be bloody. But the verdict is still out on how the violence will affect the outcome and credibility of a high-stakes election for a country with a long history of political unrest.