• Saturday, February 24, 2024

HEADLINE STORY

No clear winner likely as Pakistan holds election suspending mobile services, shutting borders

Analysts were keenly watching what role the country’s all-powerful military plays after the results are out.

A man casts vote during the general elections in Pakistan’s Karachi city on Thursday, February 8, 2024. (PTI Photo)

By: Shubham Ghosh

MOBILE phone services were temporarily suspended across Pakistan while some land borders with neighbours such as Iran and Afghanistan were closed on Thursday (8) to maintain law and order as the country went to the national election that has been preceded by a rise in militant violence resulting in loss of several lives.

Nearly 30 people were killed in two blasts near electoral candidates’ offices in the south-western province of Balochistan on the eve of the voting. Islamic State later claimed responsibility for the same.

The key election in a country which has not seen a civilian head of the government completing a full tenure of five years since its independence in 1947, is being held in the middle of a deep economic turmoil and a political environment which is highly polarised.

However, the election may not deliver a quick-fix solution to Pakistan’s problems as many analysts predicted that no clear winner may emerge, a Reuters report said.

Read: Decoding Pakistan’s challenging national election of February 8

Thousands of troops were deployed at polling stations across the country and the borders with the neighbouring countries of Iran and Afghanistan were temporarily shut in order to ensure that the election was held peacefully.

In a post on X, the interior ministry of Pakistan said, “As a result of the recent incidents of terrorism in the country precious lives have been lost, security measures are essential to maintain the law and order situation and deal with possible threats.”

Read: Pakistan’s violent election: At least 28 dead in Balochistan blasts on voting eve

Leaders, voters slam mobile services suspension

Meanwhile, the decision to suspend mobile networks sparked criticism from leaders of Pakistan’s opposition parties. Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, chairman of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and also its prime ministerial face, sought the services’ “immediate restoration”.

“(I) have asked my party to approach both ECP (Election Commission of Pakistan) and the courts for this purpose,” he said on X.

Pakistan’s chief election commissioner Sikander Sultan Raja said the decision to suspend mobile networks was made by “law and order agencies” following Wednesday’s violence, adding the commission would not interfere in the matter, Reuters reported.

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) led by former prime minister Imran Khan who is currently in jail, urged people in a tweet to remove passwords from their personal Wifi accounts “so anyone in the vicinity can have access to internet on this extremely important day”.

Khan cast his ballot from a prison in Rawalpindi, his party sources confirmed to Reuters.

The voters were also not pleased saying it was hampering communication.

Report of one death came on the polling day when gunmen opened fire at a security forces vehicle in the Tank region of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province in north-western Pakistan, sources in the intelligence services told Reuters.

While unofficial results were expected to emerge within a few hours after the voting closed, a clearer picture is expected on Friday (9).

The main contests are expected to be between PTI candidates backed by Khan, whose party won the last election in 2018; the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz led by three-time prime minister Nawaz Sharif and Bhutto Zardari’s PPP which has also run an aggressive campaign to win power.

According to the analysts, while there may not be a clear winner, but the military, Pakistan’s most influential agency, could play a role. While the men in uniform have dominated the country directly or indirectly since independence, it has claimed to not have interfered in politics for several years now.

“The deciding factor is which side the powerful military and its security agencies are on,” Abbas Nasir, a columnist was quoted as saying by Reuters.

“Only a huge turnout in favour of PTI can change its fortunes.”

He added, “Economic challenges are so serious, grave, and the solutions so very painful that I am unsure how anyone who comes to power will steady the ship.”

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