Many of the attacks in the run-up to the vote targeted secular parties. That raised concern the violence could benefit hard-line Islamists and others who take a softer line toward the militants, like Sharif and Khan, because they were able to campaign more freely.
Many Pakistanis expressed pride that so many of their fellow citizens chose to vote.
“More political activity means more awareness,” said Nasira Jibran in Lahore. “More awareness means more accountability.”
The apparent victor, Sharif, is best known for testing Pakistan’s first nuclear weapon in 1998, and his party is seen to have a pro-business stance. He was toppled in a military coup by then-army chief Gen. Pervez Musharraf in 1999 and spent years in exile in Saudi Arabia before returning to the country in 2007. His party came in second in the 2008 elections to the Pakistan People’s Party and is seen as more religiously conservative.
Sharif faced a strong challenge from former cricket star Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party. The winner of the 1992 cricket World Cup tapped into the frustrations of many Pakistani youths fed up with the country’s traditional politicians.
“It’s now our turn. We youngsters want our say in national affairs,” said voter Rubina Riaz in Lahore.
Khan suffered a horrific fall off a forklift during a campaign event Tuesday in Lahore that sent him to the hospital with three broken vertebrae and a broken rib. He didn’t vote Saturday because he couldn’t travel to his polling place.
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.”