Islamabad: Voting in a tense election to choose a new government in Pakistan ended Wednesday evening with at least 35 people being killed in an Islamic State suicide attack and other poll-related violence during the day.
The voting started at 8 AM local time on more than 85,000 polling stations and ended at 6 PM. The results would be announced within 24 hours.
The polling ended at its scheduled time despite calls by several major parties, including Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) to extend the polling time by an hour. They had complained of “a slow voting process” but their request was rejected by the Election Commission.
Hours after polling began for the general elections, an Islamic State (IS) suicide bomber blew himself up outside a polling station in Bhosa Mandi area of Balochistan’s provincial capital, Quetta, killing 31 people, including policemen.
In other incidents of poll-related violence, four persons were killed. Clashes erupted between rival parties outside several polling stations, reports said.
Nearly 10.6 crore people are registered to vote for members of the lower house of parliament and four provincial assemblies.
Pakistan Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa cast his vote in Rawalpindi.
Shahbaz Sharif, the PML-N president who is hoping to become the next prime minister, was among the first to cast his vote in Lahore.
Former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, former Sindh chief minister Murad Ali Shah, MQM-P’s Farooq Sattar, Pak Sarzameen Party (PSP) chairman Mustafa Kamal, PTI chief Imran Khan, PPP co-chairman Bilawal Bhutto and JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman also cast their vote in their respective constituencies.
The two Bhutto sisters Asifa Bhutto Zardari and Bakhtawar Bhutto Zardari also cast their votes. Bakhtawar posted a picture after casting a vote with her sister.
According to the Election Commission, 3,459 candidates are contesting for 272 general seats of the National Assembly, while 8,396 candidates are running for 577 general seats of the four provincial assemblies – Punjab, Sindh, Balochistan and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.
More than 30 political parties have fielded their candidates for the elections.
The PTI, led by cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, is looking to unseat the incumbent PML-N, which was formally led by the now jailed ex-prime minister Nawaz Sharif. The PPP, led by Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, is also in the race.
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.
Pakistan’s National Assembly comprises a total of 342 members, of which 272 will be directly elected today whereas the rest – 60 seats reserved for women and 10 for religious minorities – are selected later through proportional representation among parties with more than five percent of the vote.
In the run up to the elections, the country witnessed a series of deadly attacks targeting candidates and campaign rallies, including one that killed 151 people in Balochistan.