Pakistan elections 2024: Violence, internet suspension grip voting day

No matter who wins, the Pak Army will rule the roost

Lahore: 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.

Forty-four political parties are vying for a share of the 266 seats that are up for grabs in the National Assembly, or the lower house of parliament, with an additional 70 seats reserved for women and minorities.

The next government in Pakistan will have a long to-do list: fixing the economy, improving relations with the neighboring, Taliban-run Afghanistan, repairing crumbling infrastructure and resolving year-round power outages. Last but not least is containing religious and separatist militant 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.

Most Pakistanis, according to the reports, are fed up after years of political infighting and no improvements in their living standards. People on the street are quick to tell you they don’t believe things will be different after this election.

A day before the election, at least 30 people were killed in bombings at political offices, and sporadic attacks on Thursday appeared aimed at disrupting the balloting, including one that killed five police officers in a country beset by surging militancy. The unprecedented total mobile phone shutdown, which was intended to prevent disruptions and flash protests, drew condemnation from rights groups.

The polls closed Thursday evening, and ballot counting began. Sikandar Sultan Raja, chief election commissioner, said officials would communicate the results to the oversight body by early Friday, with the outcome released to the public after that.

Still, that Sharif appears to be the main contender represents a remarkable reversal of fortunes for the three-time prime minister, who returned to the country last October after four years of self-imposed exile abroad to avoid serving prison sentences. Within weeks of his return, his convictions were overturned, leaving him free to seek a fourth term in office.

His arch rival, former Prime Minister Imran Khan, meanwhile, is behind bars and banned from running after a series of convictions, including some just days before the election. Khan was ousted from power in a no-confidence vote in April 2022 and now has more than 150 legal cases hanging over him.

Candidates from his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party have been forced to run as independents after the Supreme Court and Election Commission said they can’t use the party symbol — a cricket bat. In Pakistan, parties use symbols to help illiterate voters find them on the ballots.

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