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Low voter turnout in Karachi after official killed

In Pakistan, party leaders blame opponent

Pakistanis at a protest on Sunday condemned the killing of Zahra Shahid Hussain in Karachi a day before an election.

Fareed Khan/Associated Press

Pakistanis at a protest on Sunday condemned the killing of Zahra Shahid Hussain in Karachi a day before an election.

ISLAMABAD — Voters in an upscale district of Karachi turned out in low numbers on Sunday for a repeat of the parliamentary election there, a day after a prominent official in Imran Khan’s political party was gunned down in the area, officials said.

The district was a focus for accusations of election fraud during national voting May 11, and voting there was suspended early that day after reports of violent intimidation.

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In particular, Khan’s party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, which has made inroads among affluent Karachi voters, blamed the dominant party in the city, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, of trying to head off his supporters from the polls.

Then, late Saturday, a cofounder of Khan’s party, Zahra Shahid Hussain, 60, was shot to death outside her home in the same district.

Police officials described the shooting as an attempted robbery gone awry. But Khan and other party leaders immediately blamed the MQM party as having been involved — an accusation that MQM officials denied.

In a statement, Khan directly held Altaf Hussain, the leader of MQM who lives in London and is sought for questioning or arrest in Pakistan on several charges, responsible for the killing. Khan said Hussain “had openly threatened PTI workers and leaders through public broadcasts.”

“I also hold the British Government responsible, as I had warned them to act against Altaf Hussain after his open threats to kill PTI workers. Unfortunately, the British Government did nothing to stop his calls to violence and killings,” Khan said in his statement.

It was another example of how violence and politics remain closely intertwined in Karachi, a sprawling port metropolis that has long been riven by political turf wars that leave staggering body counts.

The killing Saturday had an immediate effect on the voter turnout, despite the presence of Army troops within polling places, officials said.

Around 86,316 voters were registered for voting in the district, known here as NA-250, and turnout is usually quite high there. But as polling came to a close at 5 p.m., elections officials said that perhaps 10 percent of registered voters had cast a ballot — a stark contrast with the record 60 percent nationwide average turnout on election day.

The Pakistan Muslim League-N party, led by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, dominated the May 11 national election and is ready to form the next government. The party held off a strong challenge from Khan, whose criticism of the country’s traditional politicians energized the Pakistani youth.

Khan has alleged vote rigging in parts of the country, and the election commission has been repeating the vote or doing recounts for eight national assembly seats, including in NA-250.

Politicians and analysts expressed outrage over Zahra Hussain’s killing, praising her for her dedication and courage.

“She was a very hard-working, eloquent, and progressive woman,” said Shmaisa Rehman, a political talk show host with Pakistan Television.

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