Pakistan Votes in Tense Election Amid Tight Security and Rigging Claims

Pakistanis are casting their ballots in a crucial general election that will decide the fate of the country’s next government and its relations with the world.

The election is being held amid tight security and allegations of poll rigging by the opposition parties, who accuse the military and the judiciary of interfering in the electoral process to favour the ruling party.

The main contenders are the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), led by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif; the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), led by former foreign minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the son of slain former prime minister Benazir Bhutto; and the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F), led by Maulana Fazlur Rehman, a religious leader who has allied with the PML-N and the PPP to form an anti-government alliance.

The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), founded by former cricket star Imran Khan, who became the prime minister after the 2018 election, is not contesting the election under its own symbol, after the Supreme Court disqualified it from using the bat as its electoral symbol over a funding case. The PTI candidates are running as independents, but they are expected to rejoin the party if they win.

The election is being held under a mixed system of first-past-the-post and proportional representation, with 272 seats in the National Assembly and 577 seats in the four provincial assemblies up for grabs. A party or a coalition needs at least 169 seats in the National Assembly and a majority in the provinces to form the government.

According to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), more than 128 million voters are eligible to vote in the election, which is being held at over 85,000 polling stations across the country. The ECP has deployed more than 1.2 million security personnel, including army, police and paramilitary forces, to ensure a peaceful and fair election.

The voting started at 8 a.m. and will end at 5 p.m. local time, with the results expected to be announced by Friday. However, some polling stations reported delays in the start of the voting due to technical glitches, missing ballot papers and staff absenteeism.

The election campaign was marred by violence, with at least 150 people killed and hundreds injured in various attacks, mostly targeting the candidates and workers of the PML-N, the PPP and the JUI-F. The deadliest attack occurred on Wednesday, when two suicide bombers struck a rally of the JUI-F in Quetta, the capital of Balochistan province, killing 31 people and injuring 70 others.

The opposition parties have also accused the government of using state institutions, such as the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) and the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR), to harass and intimidate their candidates and supporters. They have also alleged that the ECP is not independent and is working under the influence of the military and the judiciary, which they claim are backing the PTI.

The government and the PTI have rejected these allegations, saying that the election is free and fair and that the opposition parties are trying to create chaos and confusion among the voters. They have also accused the opposition parties of being corrupt and incompetent and of having failed to deliver on their promises to the people.

The election is being closely watched by the international community, as it will have implications for Pakistan’s relations with its neighbours, especially India and Afghanistan, and its allies, such as China, the United States and Saudi Arabia. The election will also determine Pakistan’s stance on key regional and global issues, such as the Afghan peace process, the Kashmir dispute, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and the fight against terrorism.

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