The Pakistani elections conducted on Thursday suffered an unnecessary delay that drew criticism from various countries across the world. The PTI party, led by former Prime Minister Imran Khan, claimed an initial lead based on unofficial counts. By 2 a.m. on Friday, some constituencies had only counted 10% of the votes, according to local media outlets. The Pakistan Election Commission did not provide a timeline for when the counting process would conclude.
Bilawal Bhutto Zardari expressed frustration with the slow reporting of results. The ECP established more than 90,000 polling stations to accommodate over 128 million registered voters. Sporadic violence and a nationwide suspension of mobile phone and internet services marred the electoral process. This raised concerns about the credibility of the electoral process. The Interior Ministry announced that the disruption in communication services aimed to address security threats and maintain law and order. The ministry did not address the internet outage, which followed bomb blasts outside campaign offices in Baluchistan. Militant attacks on election day resulted in casualties, predominantly among policemen.
Analysts observe that the election winner will govern a populace disillusioned with the political system. They expressed a lack of confidence in the electoral process and were deeply concerned about the country’s economic future. Nawaz Sharif’s Muslim League (Nawaz) Party is perceived as the military’s preferred choice. Imran Khan, the incumbent Prime Minister, is incarcerated following a crackdown on his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Party. Many voters, like first-time voter Faiza Tariq in Lahore, expressed hope that their vote would bring positive change. However, others, like Fazal-Ur-Rehman, abstained from voting due to distrust in the process. Pakistani expatriate Nazward Atta returned to vote in protest against perceived unfairness. Some voters criticized the disruption of communication services, questioning its necessity in the absence of a conflict situation.
The government deployed over 650,000 security personnel to safeguard polling stations across the country. It partially restored mobile services later on. The suspension of communication services led to allegations of election rigging by the military-backed interim government. It purportedly done to thwart Khan’s party’s electoral prospects.
Imran Khan: A Central Character
Khan, a prominent politician, faced conviction and imprisonment for controversial corruption and other charges leading up to the Pakistani elections. His party has faced a widespread crackdown across the country for months. The result was the arbitrary arrest of hundreds of members and candidates. They were later released upon resigning from the party or withdrawing from the electoral process.
Despite his incarceration, Khan remains a significant figure in the election, with a sizable support base likely to back independent candidates endorsed by his party. However, there are concerns that the government’s suspension of mobile services is creating conditions conducive to electoral manipulation, potentially depriving many Pakistanis of their right to vote freely and raising doubts about the authorities’ assurance of a fair and transparent election.
Michael Kugelman, director of the South Asia Institute at the Wilson Center, highlighted these concerns in his remarks to the VOA, emphasizing the importance of ensuring that all citizens have the opportunity to participate in the electoral process without interference or hindrance from the state.
Internet Disruption Condemned
“We’re tracking reports of restrictions on internet and cellphone access across Pakistan on polling day,” the State Department said. It emphasized the importance of democratic institutions, a free press, a vibrant civil society, and opportunities for political participation for all Pakistanis.
Amnesty International condemned the election-day internet shutdown as “reckless” and a “blunt attack” on freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. Pakistan, with nearly 190 million cellular subscribers, including 128 million using mobile broadband services, experienced widespread disruption of service. This left many voters unable to access critical election commission data.
Sikandar Sultan, Pakistan’s chief election commissioner, asserted that decisions such as suspending phone service were the sole prerogative of security agencies tasked with maintaining law and order. However, when questioned about potential intervention by the election commission to restore service, Sultan stated that the commission would not interfere in the decisions of security agencies.
Journalists from mainstream Pakistani television channels reported difficulties in promptly reporting rigging incidents and irregularities due to the suspension of mobile networks throughout the day. Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar, an independent candidate for the National Assembly, criticized the shutdown, stating that cutting off candidates from their agents and staff on election day hindered efforts to monitor and highlight any irregularities. He asserted that such actions facilitated rigging and undermined the integrity of the Pakistani elections.
Nawaz Exudes Confidence
Sharif expressed confidence in his party’s ability to secure victory and form a government independently, dismissing the notion of a coalition government as inadequate for addressing Pakistan’s economic challenges. Speaking to reporters in Lahore after casting his vote, he urged against considering the possibility of a coalition government.
The Pakistani elections featured over 5,000 candidates vying for 266 general seats in the 342-member National Assembly, with approximately 12,600 candidates contesting assembly seats across Pakistan’s four provinces.
The U.S.-based Gallup polling survey company revealed on the eve of the elections that more than two-thirds of Pakistanis expressed a lack of confidence in the integrity of their electoral process.