Pakistan votes to elect new government, mobile phone service suspended

Pakistani voters will seal the fates of 17,816 candidates on Thursday (February 8, 2024) as the country, roiled by an economic crisis, is witnessing a neck-to-neck contest between old dynastic rulers with former Prime Minister Imran Khan locked in a jail.

Representational image. Photo courtesy: Unsplash
Pakistani flags. Photo Courtesy: Unsplash

Casting of ballots, which started at 8am, will close at 5pm.

Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), which is supposedly backed by the powerful military, is predicted to emerge as the single largest party in the election that has been delayed by months.

With Pakistan witnessing an uptick in terror attacks in recent months, security has been beefed up across polling stations in the country.

“Along with 6,500 personnel of Islamabad police, 1,000 FC, 1,500 Rangers and Pakistan Army personnel are performing their duties in the federal capital,” Islamabad Police said, as quoted by Dawn News.

Internet suspended

Pakistan’s Interior Ministry has decided to ‘temporarily suspend mobile services across the country’ amid a ‘deteriorating situation’.

In a statement, the ministry was quoted as saying by Dawn News, said: “Recent surge in terrorist activities resulting in precious lives have stirred the security environment in the country.”

Former PPP senator Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar criticised the move and posted on X: “Shutting down mobile networks on polling day is the beginning of election day rigging. Pre-poll environment was already one of the worst in Pak’s history. Cutting candidates off from their agents and staff on election day is unacceptable. How’s one suppose to keep a check and highlight any irregularity? By the time news comes out election would have been stolen.”

Key contestants

Pakistan’s former PM Nawaz Sharif is eyeing his fourth term and enjoys a stronghold in Punjab province where his Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) party earned appreciation for mega infrastructure projects.

He is facing a key challenge from 35-year-old Pakistan People’s Party leader Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. He is the son of slain former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

Imran Khan factor

Former Pakistani cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, who was ousted from power in 2022, is currently in prison on multiple convictions.

His PTI, which was once a strong political outfit in the country, has been prohibited from using its famous cricket bat symbol on ballots.

Despite being unable to fight the poll, Khan has voted through a postal ballot from Adiala Jail, sources told Dawn News.

Under his leadership, PTI had won the last general polls.

UN rights office voices concern ahead of elections in Pakistan

UN Human Rights High Commissioner Volker Türk has urged authorities in Pakistan to ensure that parliamentary elections this week are free and fair, his office, OHCHR, said on Tuesday (February 6, 2024).

OHCHR denounced all acts of violence against political parties and candidates in the lead-up to Thursday’s vote.

Spokesperson Liz Throssell said there have been no less than 24 reported instances in which armed groups have staged attacks against members of political parties.