Wednesday, 22 August, 2018

Pakistan's Who's Who vote in knife-edge election

Pakistani election officials count ballots papers after polls closed at a polling station in Karachi on July 25 AFP Imran Khan wants to create a 'New Pakistan,' many fear more of the same
Jennie Wade | 25 July, 2018, 23:02

According to a survey of polls by Gallup Pakistan on the eve of general elections, PTI and the PML-N are running "neck and neck", with the PTI ahead nationally and the PML-N ahead in the crucial province of Punjab.

Thirty-five people were wounded, several reportedly in critical condition, in the attack in the provincial capital of Baluchistan, raising concerns the death toll could rise, according to hospital official Jaffar Kakar, a doctor.

The first voter to enter a polling station in the eastern city of Lahore was a woman, business executive Maryum Arif, who told AFP she planned to vote for the PML-N as "it has served Pakistan".

"Now the army, the intelligence agencies and the judiciary are taking sides", said PML-N voter Tariq Ateeq Sheikh, 50, a property dealer in Lahore's Walton neighbourhood.

Khan has staunchly denied allegations by Sharif's PML-N party that he is getting help from the military, which has ruled Pakistan for about half of its history and still sets key security and foreign policy in the nuclear-armed nation.

Speaking to the media, the younger brother of the former Prime Minister urged the masses to vote for the PML-N to change the country's destiny.

Pakistani election officials receive ballot boxes and voting materials at a distribution centre in Peshawar on July 24, 2018.

As polls closed, but before results came in, jubilant supporters of both the PML-N and PTI drove their the streets of the city, waving flags and happily shouting their party's slogans.

Authorities have ordered the deployment of more than 800,000 troops and police to guard polling stations across the country.

Pakistan polls: Former cricketers turn to support Imran Khan
But Imran Khan and his PTI have been rising in the polls. "It's two planks", Sayed said of the PML-N's appeal to voters. Pakistani soldiers search election officers of a voting material distribution center in Lahore on July 24, 2018.

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Asked about allegations that the Pakistan Army is meddling in the elections, the spokesperson said the United States will not comment on Pakistan's internal politics.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the explosion.

PTI chief Imran Khan cast his vote in an Islamabad constituency from where he is also contesting. More than 30 political parties have fielded their candidates for the elections.

The ballots will be cast for 272 general seats of the lower house - also known as the National Assembly - and 577 general seats of the country's four provincial assemblies.

PML-N's lacklustre campaign was reinvigorated by the return to Pakistan of party founder Nawaz Sharif, 68, who was earlier this month convicted and sentenced in absentia to 10 years in prison over the purchase of upscale London apartments using offshore companies in the mid 1990s.

As Pakistan prepares to make history Wednesday by electing a third straight civilian government, rights activists, analysts and candidates say the campaign has been among its dirtiest ever, imperiling the country's wobbly transition to democratic rule.

Quetta is in Pakistan's southern Baluchistan province, which also saw the deadliest suicide bombing in the run-up to election day, with 149 people, including a provincial assembly candidate, killed at a campaign rally this month.

Under Pakistani law, separate seats are reserved for women and for non-Muslim minorities, who comprise 4 percent of the population. After the results, 27 winning independent candidates joined Sharif's party to give it a majority.

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