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Pakistan starts releasing vote results after election day hit by violence

In World
February 09, 2024

The results of Pakistan’s elections are trickling in after an hours-long delay on Friday, a day after the vote was marred by sporadic violence, a mobile phone service shutdown and the sidelining of the party of former prime minister Imran Khan.

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The Election Commission of Pakistan announced about 60 results for the 266 seats of the National Assembly or lower house of parliament by noon, showing the party of the country’s three-time prime minister Nawaz Sharif had an edge over others. 

The remaining results were to be announced by evening, officials said.

Earlier, local media reported victories of dozens of independents backed by Khan‘s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party after the imprisoned former cricket star was disqualified from contesting the vote because of criminal convictions he contends were politically motivated.

PTI candidates ran as independents after the Supreme Court and Election Commission said they couldn’t use the party symbol – a cricket bat. In Pakistan, parties use symbols to help illiterate voters find them on the ballots. PTI couldn’t hold rallies or open campaign offices, and its online events were blocked, steps it contended were unfair.

Read moreRevolving door politics? Shadow of military looms over Pakistan elections

The chief election commissioner had previously said the results would be communicated to the oversight body by the early hours of Friday and released to the public after that, but it started happening at midday. The interior ministry attributed the delay to a “lack of connectivity” resulting from security precautions.

Many Pakistani news channels reported that PTI-backed independents were giving the other big parties, led by Sharif and political dynasty scion Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, a run for their money by striding ahead in dozens of constituencies. 

Senator Mushahid Hussain, a member of Sharif’s party, called the media tallies “probably the biggest election upset in Pakistan’s political history in the last 50 years”. Withheld results were a recipe for disaster, he said on X, formerly known as Twitter.

There are 266 seats up for grabs in the National Assembly, with a further 70 reserved for women and minorities. If no party wins an outright majority, the one with the biggest share of the seats can form a coalition government.

The Election Commission also started announcing the results of Pakistan’s four provincial assemblies. The commission was posting election results on its website more than 15 hours after polls closed. 

Nine killed in attacks

Thousands of troops were deployed on the streets and at polling stations across the country for Thursday’s election day. Borders with Iran and Afghanistan were temporarily closed as security was stepped up to ensure peaceful polling.

Despite the heightened security, nine people, including two children, were killed in bomb blasts, grenade attacks and shootings by militants.

The victims included five police killed in a bomb blast and firing on a patrol in the Kulachi area of Dera Ismail Khan district in the northwest, authorities said. Two children died in a blast outside a women’s polling station in Balochistan.

“Despite a few isolated incidents, the overall situation remained under control, demonstrating the effectiveness of our security measures,” caretaker Interior Minister Gohar Ejaz said in a statement.

The US was concerned about “steps that were taken to restrict freedom of expression, specifically around internet and cellphone use”, State Department deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel told reporters on Thursday.

The US strongly condemned election-related violence both in the run-up to the polls and on election day, Patel added.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also expressed concern about the violence and the suspension of mobile communications services, his spokesperson said in an e-mailed statement.

Amnesty International called the suspension of mobile services “a blunt attack on the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly”.

Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja said the decision on mobile networks was made by “law and order agencies” following violence on Wednesday in which 28 people were killed.

Authorities announced just before polls opened that they had suspended mobile services across the country.

‘Painful solutions’

The military has dominated the nuclear-armed country either directly or indirectly in its 76 years of independence but for several years it has maintained it does not interfere in politics.

“The deciding factor is which side the powerful military and its security agencies are on,” said Abbas Nasir, a columnist, commenting on the likelihood that no party would emerge as a clear winner in the vote. “Only a huge turnout in favour of (Khan’s) PTI can change its fortunes.”

He added: “Economic challenges are so serious, grave, and the solutions so very painful that I am unsure how anyone who comes to power will steady the ship.”

If the election does not result in a clear majority for anyone, as analysts are predicting, tackling multiple challenges will be tricky – foremost being seeking a new bailout programme from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) after the current arrangement expires in March.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, REUTERS)

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