Pakistanis to vote on Thursday to elect new government, Sharif's PML-N front-runner

Pakistanis will vote on Thursday to elect a new government to rule the cash-strapped country amid a spree of violence including deadly blasts on the eve of elections in which the front-runner former prime minister Nawaz Sharif is believed to have the backing of the powerful military.
Pakistan general election 2024
Pakistan general election 2024

Islamabad | Pakistanis will vote on Thursday to elect a new government to rule the cash-strapped country amid a spree of violence including deadly blasts on the eve of elections in which the front-runner former prime minister Nawaz Sharif is believed to have the backing of the powerful military.

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.

Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) candidates are contesting the polls independently after the Supreme Court upheld the decision of the election commission to deprive his party of its iconic election symbol cricket 'bat'.

Sharif, 74, will be eying the premiership for a record fourth time in Thursday's election.

The contest also involves the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) of Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, who has been declared as the party's prime minister face.

Nearly 650,000 security personnel have been deployed across the country as authorities were busy setting up polling stations to enable more than 12.85 crore registered voters to cast their ballot in the general elections.

Stepped-up security is imperative given the spree of violence with the latest being two devastating bomb blasts targeting election offices on Wednesday in the restive Balochistan province that saw at least 25 people killed and more than 40 others injured.

The Election Commission of Pakistan had issued a schedule in December last year to hold the polls and kept the process intact despite deteriorating security situation.

On Wednesday, election material was shifted to more than 90,000 polling stations under the supervision of respective polling officers who were escorted by police and army soldiers.

On Thursday, polling will begin at 8.00AM and continue without any interval till 5.00 PM. A countrywide public holiday has been declared to enable voters cast their vote with any hindrance.

Punjab has the most number of 73, 207,896 registered voters followed by Sindh with 26,994,769, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa with 21,928,119, Balochistan with 5,371,947 and Federal Capital Islamabad 1,083,029.

According to ECP, a total of 5,121 candidates are in the race for the National Assembly (NA) seats. These include 4807 male, 312 female and two transgenders. For the four provincial assemblies, 12,695 candidates are in the field including 12,123 male, 570 women and two transgenders.

In total 266 NA seats were up for grabs out of 336, but polling was postponed on at least one seat after a candidate was killed in a gun attack in Bajaur. Sixty seats are reserved for women and another 10 for minorities, and are allotted to the winning parties on the basis of proportional representation.

Another 593 seats of the four provincial assemblies, out of total 749, were open for contest but the ECP delayed polls on at least three seats, two in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and one in Punjab, after two candidates died and one was killed.

A total of 132 seats in the four provinces are reserved for women in four provinces and another 24 for minorities. The reserved seats will be allotted to the winning political parties on the basis of general seats they win in the elections. Both women and non-Muslim minorities can also contest on all general seats in addition to the reserved seats set aside for them in the national and provincial assemblies.

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 deployment of police, paramilitary forces personnel and regular army troops to provide security due to threat of attacks by the militants groups.

Radio Pakistan reported that about 650,000 security personnel have been deployed on the ground to ensure the security of the voters. These include the personnel of police, civil armed forces and the armed forces. Under a three tiered system, the personnel of the armed forces will perform duties outside the polling stations.

Whoever wins the Feb 8 polls will find a daunting task ahead due to the dwindling economy and deteriorating security situation. Last year, the country narrowly averted a default when the International Monetary Fund provided a $3 billion short-term loan. Economic experts believe that the new government would need an urgent new IMF program on more stringent conditions.

Pakistan's more than two decades old fight against terrorism is also unraveling as the rebels have resurged since 2021 after the Afghan Taliban came to power. The new government will find it tougher to deal with the militancy by the banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan and Baloch nationalists.

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