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Ex-Pakistani PM Sharif strikes confident note in vote marred by controversy, mobile phone shutdown

LAHORE, Pakistan (AP) — Former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif expressed confidence his party would win national elections Thursday, a vote that has been marred by violence and controversy, especially a nationwide mobile phone shutdown and the imprisonment of a popular contender.

A day before the election, at least 30 people were killed in bombings at political offices, and dozens of attacks on Thursday appeared aimed at disrupting the balloting. The military said 12 people were killed and 39 wounded in 51 attacks in the country that has been beset by surging militancy. The unprecedented mobile phone shutdown was intended to prevent disruptions and flash protests, but it drew condemnation from rights groups.

The violence, political feuding and a seemingly intractable economic crisis have left many voters disillusioned and raised questions about whether a new government can bring more stability to the troubled Western ally.

But Sharif brushed off suggestions his Pakistan Muslim League party might not win an outright majority in the parliament and would need to form a coalition to govern.

“For God’s sake, don’t mention a coalition government,” he said after casting his vote in the upscale Model Town neighborhood of Lahore.

He even suggested he was thinking about which posts would go to his family members — including his younger brother and former prime minister, Shehbaz Sharif.

“Once this election is over,” Nawaz Sharif said, “we will sit down and decide who is PM (prime minister) and who is CM (chief minister)” of Punjab province, a job that is regarded as a stepping stone to becoming premier.

The polls closed Thursday evening, and ballot counting began. Sikandar Sultan Raja, chief election commissioner, said officials