Millions of voters turned up to vote in the Pakistan General Election on 25 July, despite the threat of violence, protests and fears of military interference.
As votes got counted, Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) gained a lead over its competition — Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N), among others. However, the early count of votes was marred by accusations of vote rigging by several politicians of major parties, who proceeded to reject the early results.
PML-N's Shehbaz Sharif charged fraud and vowed not to accept the results, generating fears that disgruntled losers could delay the formation of the next government.
The officials of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) denied the allegations of irregularities including counting ballots in secret, saying that the elections were "100% free and transparent".
With the 2018 election being only the second time in Pakistan's 70-year-old history that power is being peacefully passed from one government to another, the world's attention was focussed on the election process and the implications of its results.
Several international newspapers and websites reported on the accusations of vote rigging after the initial count was released.
The Washington Post reported the news of vote rigging accusations in a balanced perspective with reactions from all major parties.
In a news conference, Shehbaz Sharif angrily rejected the reported results and denounced “massive irregularities” at the polls. But Asad Umar, a spokesman for Imran Khan, told journalists in Islamabad that “we are likely to have a clear majority. Pakistanis will be proud of this government.”
Both Khan and Shehbaz Sharif, the younger brother of Nawaz Sharif, are running for Parliament from Lahore, and one or the other is likely to become the prime minister. Both men are in their mid-60s, but their rivalry embodies two competing versions of reality — Khan’s call to free Pakistan of corrupt political dynasties, and the Sharifs’ campaign to end shadowy military, judicial and bureaucratic influence in politics.
The Post presented strengths of each of the parties, highlighting incarcerated Nawaz Sharif's plea for support for his party for "one final push to break the wall” of hidden official opposition to democracy.
Some voters said they were touched by Nawaz Sharif’s decision to return home from London to face jail, leaving behind his wife, who is hospitalised with a serious illness. One voter, a shopkeeper named Raees Ahmed, said: “He could have easily lived in London, but he came for us, for democracy and for civilian supremacy. He has done his job, and it’s our turn now to do ours," the Post reported, adding that some of Sharif's supporters were also inclined towards voting for Khan.
Khan's plea — "This has been the culmination of 22 years of struggle. I can honestly say I have given my best for Pakistan. The rest is up to Allah.” He urged people to vote, tweeting: “This is the first time in 4 decades the nation has a chance to defeat the entrenched status quo. Don’t miss this opportunity" — succeeded in convincing the youth of better employment opportunities, and a general improvement in the standard of living.
“All the youth of Lahore and of this country support Khan, because he will bring jobs for them,” said Zahoor Hussain, 32, an engineer. “He is a clean and honest person, and we believe he will steer the country out of all problems. He won the Cricket World Cup, made a cancer hospital and now in his leadership we will make a new Pakistan where all citizens are equal.”
British newspaper The Guardian presented the ECP's response regarding the accusations, as well as the reactions of various other major parties. in a more comprehensive way.
The report said that the ECP, an independent body, blamed the delay in announcing the result on a breakdown in the Results Transmission Software it purchased from a British company.
It also highlighted Nawaz Sharif's pre-poll accusations of the military swinging the election in favour of PTI. Sharif's PML-N tried to curb the power of the military while it was in office.
Sharif said the military's influence included pressure on PML-N's candidates to defect, a spate of court cases and the silencing of supportive media channels.
As election workers sorted through massive piles of paper ballots, almost all the parties — except the PTI, alleged that their polling agents had been excluded from polling stations.
Bilawal Bhutto, the leader of the liberal Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), the country’s third-largest party, tweeted it was “inexcusable and outrageous” that his activists had been excluded “across the country”.
The complaint was echoed by his rival Khadim Rizvi, who leads the far-right Islamist group, Tehreek-e-Labbaik (TLP). “This is the worst rigging in history,” said a spokesman for Rizvi.
The PML-N senator Musadik Malik told journalists that security officials had taken over proceedings inside polling stations, with a particular focus on constituencies where the race was close between the PTI and PML-N.
“If what most political parties are alleging is true,” Aqil Shah of Oklahoma University said, “it would be the biggest theft of an election since the 1970s”, adding that the parties should “unite and demand a repeat", the Guardian reported.
Pakistan’s likely next finance minister Asad Umar said that only those “sympathetic to India” were crying foul, while the rest of Pakistan “can see the country is going towards betterment.”
Qatar-based Al-Jazeera leaned towards PML-N's narrative, giving details of the party's apparent loss as shown in the initial insights. The report talked about a shift in the voting patterns of the crucial Punjab province.
Punjab, the country's most populous, holds 141 of the country's 272 directly elected seats, and the key to forming the government.
"Nawaz Sharif's only crime is to have done so much for the city of Lahore," shouted Rehana Kausar (60).
Despite Kausar complaining of polling delays at her station, she was confident the PML-N, which has dominated seats in Punjab over the last three decades, would hold onto its political heartland.
Elsewhere, anger with the alleged conspiracy to unseat the PML-N was apparent among some voters.
"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.
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Updated Date: Jul 26, 2018 15:15:31 IST