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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Pakistani voters went to the polls today in what's being called a landmark election. In a country plagued by coups and political assassinations this election marks the first time that one democratically elected government will hand power to another. But the voting in Pakistan today has been marred by violence, unrest, and accusations. NPR's Julie McCarthy joins us from Lahore.

Julie, thanks for being with us.

JULIE MCCARTHY, BYLINE: You're welcome.

SIMON: Complicated answer, I'm sure, but how did the voting today go?

MCCARTHY: Well, I think in some ways it went as many people would have expected it to go. There were expectations of violence and that happened. There was expectation that would be disruptions in the voting, and that also occurred. Karachi saw the worst of the chaos and the killing. In that sprawling city, there were three attacks which took the lives of 13 people. The voting itself was delayed for three hours in a third of city's constituencies. The ballots, the ballot boxes, the voting materials didn't materialize until very late. There were allegations of vote rigging that were loudly raised.

But Karachi is described as quiet now, and the election commission essentially admitted failure there. But said for the most part, the voting in the rest of the country was peaceful. There was no violence where I am in the Punjab Province. But even with the violence, Scott, the people of Karachi ventured out, they stood in long lines to vote. And that really underscores the risk people are willing to take here to exercise their right to vote. They just don't take it for granted.

SIMON: Near as you can tell, Julie, women discouraged from voting in parts of the country?

MCCARTHY: Oh, indeed they were. In the northwest part of the country, in a district called Upper Dir, they were in fact barred from voting. And you had maybe 3 percent of women actually sit in the national assembly. Scott, there were only 36 candidates out of more than 4,000 who were actually given tickets, as it were; given a ticket to be listed as a candidate. So, yes, there is deep discrimination against women in the realm of politics here, just underscoring the conservatism of the culture we're in.

SIMON: And in the rest of the world that is looking at Pakistan in this election, for that matter, among people there in Pakistan who have been outspoken and interested in calling for reforms, how fair and open is this election going to be seen as being?

MCCARTHY: Well, you know, that's going to be debated. There were charges of vote rigging in Karachi, and as we mentioned, of course, women were kept away from the polls. But women were also running in places that they never ran before; actually allowed to be candidates at great risk to themselves in some very conservative areas where the militants were out to get them if they were to run, and in fact they did run. And, again, just a tiny, a tiny number of women are allowed to really participate in this system, but, but they certainly did show up in the rest of the country, certainly where I was, in great numbers. In fact, in polling stations I was in, the women seemed to outnumber the men.

SIMON: Julie, when will results become known?

MCCARTHY: Well, the results are trickling in here. Whether or not some of these trends hold is another question, but in early returns, the party of two-time prime minister Nawaz Sharif, whose power base is this huge Punjab Province, where I'm sitting, he's leading in the number of seats. Again, these are initial results. And the party of the cricket player-turned politician, Imran Kahn, who really energized this campaign. He galvanized the youth of this country with talks of reform and tackling corruption. At this moment, he is neck-and-neck with the Pakistan Peoples Party. That is the party of the late Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. It's governed the last five years. It was expected not to do well. Voters are angry over these power shortages, endemic corruption, joblessness and, of course, security.

SIMON: NPR's Julie McCarthy in Lahore. Thanks so much.

MCCARTHY: Thank you.

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