Pakistani general elections: Citizens cast vote amid rigging claims

Pakistani general elections: Citizens cast vote amid rigging claims
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Islamabad: Millions of voters in Pakistan on Thursday began voting in the general elections in which former prime minister Nawaz Sharif is hoping to secure a record fourth term with the backing of the powerful military amid a crackdown on his rival Imran Khan's party, rise in violence and economic stagnation.
Amidst tight security, the polling started at 8.00 AM and will continue without any break till 5.00 PM. A countrywide public holiday has been declared to enable a total of 128 million registered voters to cast their votes and elect a new government that they hope to stabilise the country's economy.
The counting will start soon after the conclusion of the voting.
Nearly 650,000 security personnel have been deployed across the country as at least 30 people were killed on Wednesday in twin blasts in the restive Balochistan province.
Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sikandar Sultan Raja Wednesday talked to the chief secretaries and inspectors general of police (IGPs) of the four provinces and directed them to keep security on high alert to ensure the security of voters.
Pakistan has also decided to temporarily suspend mobile services due to the threat of militancy.
A spokesman of the interior minister told Geo News that precious lives were lost in the recent terrorist attacks. "So it was decided to suspend the mobile service on the polling day," he said.
Reports showed that phone services were affected in some cities including Karachi and Peshawar.
CEC Raja said that elections will be held in a peaceful atmosphere.
To a question, he said that he saw the news about the suspension of mobile service on TV because such decisions are taken by the interior ministry, which is responsible for maintaining peace.
We will not interfere because security is not the responsibility of the Election Commission of Pakistan, he said.
According to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), a total of 5,121 candidates are in the race for the National Assembly (NA) seats. These include 4,807 male, 312 female and two transgenders.
For the four provincial assemblies, 12,695 candidates are in the field including 12,123 males, 570 women and two transgenders.
As polling began at 8.00 AM throughout the country, a low turnout was generally witnessed in most constituencies.
In many places, some voters waited outside polling stations where the doors had not opened since the polling staff had not shown up for duty.
At many polling stations, the staff also complained about a shortage of ballot papers and incorrect papers leading to a long delay in the voting process.
The cold weather and rains in some parts of Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa also apparently kept away voters in many parts of the two provinces.
With former prime minister Imran Khan in jail, Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) is tipped to emerge as the single largest party in the elections.