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Pakistan counts votes after polling day hit by suspension of mobile services

Polling officers count ballot papers in Karachi, Pakistan after polling ended on February 8, 2024. (Photo by Reuters)

Pakistan has begun counting votes after polling ended in a general election that witnessed terrorist attacks and the suspension of mobile services.

As the voting came to an end on Thursday, the authorities said that at least twelve people were killed across the country in different incidents of violence.

"Twelve people (including 10 personnel of security forces and law enforcement agencies) died and 39 others have been injured in these attacks," the Pakistan army’s statement said.

The election result is likely to emerge early on Friday as counting continues throughout the night. Many analysts believe that the votes may not indicate a clear winner. Majority requires 169 seats in parliament.

Some 128 million people registered to vote in the elections to pick 266 representatives to form the 16th parliament in the country. Voters will also vote to elect the legislatures of the country’s four provinces of Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab and Sindh.

For the seats of  National Assembly, 5,121 candidates are contesting. They belong either to Pakistan’s 167 registered political parties or are independents. The Pakistani Muslim League (PML-N) (Nawaz) and the Pakistan's People's Party (PPP) headed by Bilawal Zardari Bhutto are considered the two major parties in the country.

Former Prime Minister Imran Khan's  Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI)  has been barred from using its election symbol, the cricket bat, so its candidates contested as independents this time. In Pakistan, parties use symbols to help illiterate voters find them on the ballots.

Imran Khan is serving at least 14 years in prison, having been sentenced in three separate cases in the space of five days last week.

Former Pakistani prime minister and leader of (PML-N) (Nawaz), Nawaz Sharif expressed confidence saying his party would win national elections on Thursday. When asked if he thought the election was free and fair, Sharif said they were "absolutely fair".

Thousands of troops were deployed on the streets and at polling stations across the country to ensure peaceful polling.

The interior ministry said it beefed up security after at least 26 people were killed in two explosions near electoral candidates’ offices in Pakistan’s southwestern province of Balochistan on Wednesday.

In a post on X, Pakistan’s Information Ministry announced that mobile phone services would soon be restored nationwide. It added that partial restoration of service across the country had begun.

The move to suspend mobile networks sparked criticism from leaders of opposition parties, calling for its “immediate restoration.”

Chief Election Commissioner of Pakistan, Sikandar Sultan Raja said the decision on mobile networks was made by “law and order agencies” following Wednesday’s violence and the commission would not interfere in the matter.

“Mobile phone services must be restored immediately across the country,” Bhutto stated in a post on X on Thursday.” The PPP chairman added, "I have asked my party to approach the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and courts in this regard."

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