Counting under way in Pakistan elections marred by violence and communication blackouts

At least nine people, including two children and six security officials, have been killed

Women line up to cast their votes at a polling station in Lahore during general elections in Pakistan.  EPA
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Vote counting has started in Pakistan's first general elections since Imran Khan was ousted as prime minister nearly two year ago.

Partial and unofficial results are expected to trickle in later in the evening.

The elections have been marred by violence by armed groups and a suspension of mobile phone services which has affected voters' ability to cast their ballots.

At least nine people, including two children and six security officials, have been killed nationwide during the vote.

The security personnel were killed in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces of Pakistan.

Jamil Ahmed, from the Kharan Police Station, told The National that two security personnel, including a policeman, were killed when the vehicle they were travelling in was hit by a blast.

"Two other cops were injured. All of them were going to join election-related security duties when the mishap occurred," Mr Ahmed added.

The other four were killed in a bombing targeted at a police convoy, Rauf Qaisrani, the district police officer for Dera Ismail Khan told The National.

"A search operation has been launched in the area and the probe is going on," he added.

Authorities suspended mobile phone services, creating challenges for voters trying to obtain their registration numbers via mobile apps or text messages.

An "internet issue" was the reason behind the delay, said Zafar Iqbal, special secretary at the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), after he announced the first official results in a provincial assembly.

The government said it suspended mobile phone services on Thursday as a security measure, and they were being partially resumed.

Samar Bilour, a candidate for the Awami National Party in a provincial constituency in Peshawar, said the suspension of mobile services had affected voting in the densely populated area.

“Despite the cellphone blackout, our activists were present outside voting stations and guiding the voters with their vote numbers. Overall the voting process remained peaceful,” she told The National.

Khan, jailed on corruption charges last year, is barred from standing and his party called the internet cut a "cowardly act".

Ahead of each election, the parties usually send voter numbers to constituents' home addresses. However, these numbers were not sent out by post this year in most constituencies, leaving voters having to approach party activists on polling day to get the information.

Prof Altafullah Khan, an analyst based in Lahore, Punjab province, told The National that the parties seemed to be focusing more on digital campaigns this time.

He also agreed that the lack of mobile phone services created problems for voters.

“This time many families were even divided in voting. There were members of the same [family] who had been assigned different polling stations and they faced problems in communicating at the vote stations,” said Dr Altafullah, who is a dean at Forman Christian College in Lahore.

Shafqat Raies, a party activist in Lahore, said they had set up a WhatsApp group during the election campaign, but the disruption of internet services harmed their communication with other voters.

“We could not bring several voters to vote stations due to lack of communication amid the dead cell phones,” he added.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan demanded the restoration of the phone service.

“The ongoing disruption to services has occurred despite the Sindh High Court decision to ensure uninterrupted internet services on the polling day,” the commission stated on X, formerly Twitter.

Amjad Khan, a voter in Peshawar, said he thought the turnout was no different to the previous elections. However, he said he faced problems finding his vote number via text message.

“I had to visit a party’s camp where I got my vote number and then I cast it,” he added.

Members of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), the party of jailed Imran Khan, are contesting elections as independent candidates.

While casting their votes, PTI activists told The National that they did not know the PTI-supported independent candidate, but they would still vote for them.

Abdul Rehman, a voter in Peshawar city, said: “I am supporting Imran Khan by voting for a candidate whom I don’t even know personally. But he is from Khan’s party.”

Updated: February 09, 2024, 6:38 AM