Pakistanis vote in general elections tainted by rigging claims

PTI | Islamabad | Updated: 08-02-2024 10:16 IST | Created: 08-02-2024 10:07 IST
Pakistanis vote in general elections tainted by rigging claims
Nawaz Sharif Image Credit: ANI
  • Country:
  • Pakistan

Millions of voters in Pakistan on Thursday began voting in the general elections in which former prime minister Nawaz Sharif is hoping to secure a record fourth term with the backing of the powerful military amid a crackdown on his rival Imran Khan's party, rise in violence and economic stagnation.

Amidst tight security, the polling started at 8.00 AM and will continue without any break till 5.00 PM. A countrywide public holiday has been declared to enable a total of 128 million registered voters to cast their votes and elect a new government that they hope to stabilise the country's economy.

The counting will start soon after the conclusion of the voting.

Nearly 650,000 security personnel have been deployed across the country as at least 30 people were killed on Wednesday in twin blasts in the restive Balochistan province.

Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sikandar Sultan Raja Wednesday talked to the chief secretaries and inspectors general of police (IGPs) of the four provinces and directed them to keep security on high alert to ensure the security of voters.

Pakistan has also decided to temporarily suspend mobile services due to the threat of militancy.

A spokesman of the interior minister told Geo News that precious lives were lost in the recent terrorist attacks.

''So it was decided to suspend the mobile service on the polling day,'' he said.

Reports showed that phone services were affected in some cities including Karachi and Peshawar.

CEC Raja said that elections will be held in a peaceful atmosphere.

To a question, he said that he saw the news about the suspension of mobile service on TV because such decisions are taken by the interior ministry, which is responsible for maintaining peace.

“We will not interfere because security is not the responsibility of the Election Commission of Pakistan,” he said. According to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), a total of 5,121 candidates are in the race for the National Assembly (NA) seats. These include 4,807 male, 312 female and two transgenders. For the four provincial assemblies, 12,695 candidates are in the field including 12,123 males, 570 women and two transgenders.

As polling began at 8.00 AM throughout the country, a low turnout was generally witnessed in most constituencies.

In many places, some voters waited outside polling stations where the doors had not opened since the polling staff had not shown up for duty.

At many polling stations, the staff also complained about a shortage of ballot papers and incorrect papers leading to a long delay in the voting process.

The cold weather and rains in some parts of Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa also apparently kept away voters in many parts of the two provinces.

With former prime minister Imran Khan in jail, Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) is tipped to emerge as the single largest party in the elections.

Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) candidates are contesting the polls independently after the Supreme Court upheld the decision of the election commission to deprive his party of its iconic election symbol cricket 'bat'.

In a brief pre-recorded message, the jailed founding chairman of PTI urged voters to use their ballot.

''Make sure you come out and Vote in huge numbers tomorrow,'' he was quoted as saying in a video posted on his X handle.

Khan, 71, and other prominent incarcerated political figures have cast their votes through a postal ballot from Adiala Jail, sources said.

Other political leaders who have managed to vote by mail included former foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, former Punjab chief minister Chaudhry Parvez Elahi, Awami Muslim League chief Sheikh Rashid, and former information minister Fawad Chaudhry.

However, Khan's wife Bushra Bibi, was unable to partake in the voting as she was convicted and arrested after the completion of the postal voting process.

In total 266 NA seats were up for grabs out of 336, but polling was postponed on at least one seat after a candidate was killed in a gun attack in Bajaur. A party must win 133 seats out of 265 being contested to form the next government.

Sharif, 74, will be eying the premiership for a record fourth time.

The PML-N is likely to win between 115 to 132 National Assembly seats. Adding together, the reserved seats of women and minorities would mean the party stands a chance to form its government single-handedly with a simple majority if the official assessment turns out right. Khan's PTI after falling out with the powerful establishment complained of pressure and lack of space to carry out its campaign.

The party has been subjected to a nationwide state clampdown, with hundreds of workers and candidates arrested and released only after quitting the party or withdrawing from the election. The PTI alleges that tactics have been used to prevent their candidates from contesting the election.

Khan is jailed on corruption charges and is barred from standing. He is serving at least 14 years in prison, having been sentenced in three separate cases in the space of five days last week. He still faces over 140 charges in different cases. The contest also involves the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) of Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, who has been declared as the party's prime minister face. Sixty seats are reserved for women and another 10 for minorities, and are allotted to the winning parties based on proportional representation.

Another 593 seats of the four provincial assemblies, out of a total 749, were open for contest but the ECP delayed polls on at least three seats, two in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and one in Punjab, after two candidates died and one was killed.

A total of 132 seats in the four provinces are reserved for women in four provinces and another 24 for minorities.

The reserved seats will be allotted to the winning political parties on the basis of the general seats they win in the elections. Both women and non-Muslim minorities can also contest on all general seats in addition to the reserved seats set aside for them in the national and provincial assemblies.

In the 2018 elections, overall voter turnout across the nation was 51.7 per cent.

Sharif's PML-N is a favourite to win the Punjab province and from the provincial government. The PPP is almost sure to win Sindh province.

The situation in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and Balochistan remains fluid. PTI won KP successively in the 2013 and 2018 elections but it faced wear and tear after the violence on May 9 last year following his arrest and several prominent leaders parted ways with the party. The dynamic of Balochistan, the largest province area-wise but sparsely populated, is different and traditionally it had been ruled by a coalition government of different parties. Whoever wins the polls will find a daunting task ahead due to the dwindling economy and deteriorating security situation.

Last year, the country narrowly averted a default when the International Monetary Fund provided a USD 3 billion short-term loan.

Economic experts believe that the new government would need an urgent new IMF programme on more stringent conditions.

Pakistan’s more than two-decades-old fight against terrorism is also unravelling as the rebels have resurged since 2021 after the Afghan Taliban came to power.

The new government will find it tougher to deal with the militancy by the banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan and Baloch nationalists.

(This story has not been edited by Devdiscourse staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

Give Feedback