New Delhi: Pakistan on Thursday will head to the polls to choose a new government to rule the cash-strapped country amidst a backdrop of violence, including fatal explosions on the eve of the general elections.
Nawaz Sharif, a former prime minister with the backing of the influential military, is anticipated to lead the charge as the front-runner. 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, reported news agency PTI.
Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) candidates, denied their iconic cricket ‘bat’ symbol by the Supreme Court, are contesting independently.
At 74, Sharif eyes a record fourth term as prime minister in this election. The competition also involves the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) of Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, who has been declared as the party’s prime minister face, as per the PTI report.
Polling will commence at 8:00 am and extend till 5:00 pm, with a nationwide holiday to enable voters to cast their vote without any hindrance.
Punjab boasts the highest number of registered voters, followed by Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan, and the Federal Capital Islamabad, the PTI report added.
The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) reported that 5,121 candidates are in the race for the National Assembly (NA) seats, including 4807 male, 312 female candidates and two transgenders. Additionally, 12,695 candidates vie for provincial assembly seats, with 570 women among them.
Women and non-Muslim minorities can contest both general and reserved seats in the national and provincial assemblies.
Security Personnel Deployed For General Elections In Pakistan
Ahead of the polls, nearly 650,000 security personnel have been deployed nationwide.
The escalated security measures come in response to a recent surge in violence, the latest being two devastating bomb blasts targeting election offices on Wednesday in the restive Balochistan province that saw at least 30 people killed and more than 40 others injured, PTI reported.
The Election Commission of Pakistan had issued a schedule in December last year to hold the polls and kept the process intact despite the deteriorating security situation.
The ECP set up 90,7675 polling stations nationwide, including 25,320 for male voters, 23952 for females, and another 41,403 as mixed polling stations. It said that 44,000 polling stations were normal while 29,985 were declared as sensitive, and 16,766 as highly sensitive.
Elaborate security measures have been taken with the deployment of police, paramilitary forces personnel, and regular army troops to provide security due to the threat of attacks by the militant groups.
Pakistan Dismisses UN Human Rights Body’s Concerns About Violence
Pakistan has dismissed concerns raised by the UN human rights body regarding violence and the right to fundamental democratic freedoms ahead of the country’s general elections. The government asserted that it has finalized security plans in accordance with its electoral laws, reported PTI.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed concern over violent incidents ahead of the upcoming general elections set to take place on February 8, as per PTI.
“We deplore all acts of violence against political parties and candidates, and urge the authorities to uphold the fundamental freedoms necessary for an inclusive and meaningful democratic process,” spokesperson Liz Throssell said in a statement.