Pakistanis vote amidst allegations of rigging and violence

Delayed results begin a new wave of frustration

Image Courtesy: The Dawn, Lahore, Pakistan

Venkat Raman
Auckland, February 9, 2024

Counting of votes appears to be slow in Pakistan with the results of just 12 seats announced at the time this report went up on our website and other global platforms.

Candidates backed by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) led by imprisoned former Prime Minister Imran Khan had secured six seats, and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (led by Nawaz Sharif) had also secured six seats. The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) has thus far won five seats.

Nawaz Sharif hopeful

The world’s fifth most populous country of Pakistan went to polls yesterday (February 8) to elect a new government but major political parties have accused the election authorities of rigging, while reports of violence have come in from some areas.

Pakistani politics is dominated by men and three parties the PTI, PML-N and PPP. According to a section of the media, PML-N is the top contender and on its ballot are two former prime ministers, Nawaz Sharif and his younger brother Shehbaz Sharif.

About 128 million went to polls to elect 266 members in the 336-member Parliament. According to the country’s Constitution, 60 seats are reserved for women and 10 for Non-Muslims. It is not known how many people have voted but reports said the turnout was low.

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Mr Nawaz Sheriff has held out an olive branch to India saying that he wants to work under ‘conditions of peace and harmony’ and not ‘hate and war,’ although most political observers are sceptical. Since the two countries became independent in 1947, there have been four bloody wars in addition to skirmishes and accusations that Pakistan has breached the Line of Control (Loc) on a few occasions. A constant tension exists between the leaders of the two countries with New Delhi accusing Islamabad of sponsoring, abetting and accommodating terrorists and terrorism.

Nawaz Sharif and Bilawal Bhutto Zardari are contesting but ousted Prime Minister Imran Khan (right) has been imprisoned and barred from standing in the General Election (BBC Photo)

Some Election Facts

Although Pakistan obtained freedom on August 14, 1947, following the partition of India, the country did not have a direct democratic national election until December 7, 1970, although provincial and state elections were held in 1951.

The Current Election is the 16th with a five-year term.

Pakistan has a bicameral federal legislature, with the President as the Head of the State. The Senate has a maximum membership of 100, of which 92 are elected by the provisional legislatures using a Single Transferable Vote. The tenure of membership is six years and unlike the National Assembly, the Senate is not subject to dissolution.

The number of candidates registered is 5121 and they represent 167 political parties or are running as independents. The candidates are predominantly men (4806) while only 312 women candidates have registered as candidates. There are two transgender candidates.

The Lower House, known as the National Assembly, has 336 seats, out of which 266 candidates will be voted through the direct voting process. 60 seats are reserved for women and 10 for Non-Muslims.

A total of 128 million people are eligible to cast their vote, out of the total population of 241 million. People who are above 18 years of age are eligible to vote.

The Election Commission of Pakistan had set up 90,582 polling stations and 276,402 polling booths throughout Pakistan.

There are a total of 69.5 million male and 58.5 million female voters. Among young voters, 23.51 million voters are between the ages of 18 and 25 and 33.34 million are between 26 and 35. 44 per cent of voters are under the age of 35.

Complaints of malpractices

Even as counts were being counted, the PTI, PPP and JUI-F have complained to the Election Commission of Pakistan that votes have been rigged across the country. The PPP has claimed that ballot papers were snatched from electoral staff in the PS-105 Constituency in Karachi. The Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan (JI) Party has alleged that workers belonging to the Muttahida Qaumi Movement Pakistan (MQM-P) have tried to sabotage voting at many polling stations. Videos circulating on social media also showed masked men entering polling stations in Karachi.

Balochistan National Party President and Member of the National Assembly has reportedly complained to the Election Commission of Pakistan that the Station Officer of the Balochistan Capital City of Quetta “has taken 900 votes.”

Mohsin Dawar, a Member of the National Assembly and Central Chairman of the National Democratic Development has alleged ‘large-scale rigging’ in North Waziristan.

BBC reported that authorities in Pakistan have suspended mobile calls ‘following incidents of terrorism.’

Meanwhile, former Prime Minister and PTI Founder Imran Khan, who has been awarded prison sentences varying from five to 14 years, campaigned using Artificial Intelligence.

It is understood that his supporters in the US generated an AI image of Mr Khan to promote the Party. In the image, he is seen reading speeches that he had reported conveyed to his lawyers from his prison cell, urging voters and supporters to vote in large numbers.

The Party had also organised online rallies on social media that have been watched by several hundred thousand people at a time, according to YouTube data.

Nawaz Sharif has pledged to pursue peace and friendship with India if elected to the post of Prime Minister. He is seen here with his daughter Maryam at the Icchra polling station in Lahore on February 8, 2024 (BBC Photo)

BBC Reports

BBC News said that Pakistan is on high alert, with a heavy security presence at polling stations across the country. One station in Lahore that a BBC Reporter visited had armed guards at the entrance and army officers roaming around the area.

“Border crossings with Afghanistan and Iran have been closed for both cargo and pedestrians to ensure full security during polling,” a spokesman from Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry said.

The BCC said Pakistan has in the past cut internet services to control the flow of information, but a shutdown of this extent is unprecedented, especially during an election.

“Mr Nawab Sharif and his daughter Maryam voted in Icchra, Lahore on Thursday afternoon. Security was tight, with officers forming a ring around them and a jeep covered in antennas to jam phone signals. Black cars lined the area as the pair entered the station. When asked if he thought the election was free and fair, Mr Sharif said they were “absolutely fair.” He said that he had never had any problems with the military, perhaps forgetting that he had spent much of his long career at loggerheads with the Generals,” the channel said.

Mr Sharif spoke of the “lack of civility, the arrogance, and this culture of disrupting and destroying the country,” in an apparent reference to Pakistan under Mr Khan.

He said that he and his family had gone to jail, “made sacrifices and now we are here witnessing this day. If my Party wins, people’s lives will become easier, inflation will go down – this is what people want and their wishes should come true”, he said.

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