Islamabad: Amid deadly violence and allegations of pre-poll rigging, Pakistan will go to polls on Wednesday, and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Imran Khan-led Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf (PTI) will both be keen on ensuring they come up triumphant.
A tumultuous campaign cycle — that saw the conviction of former three-time prime minister Nawaz Sharif, and a spate of suicide bombings on three election candidates from different parties — ended on Monday midnight.
In all, 105,955,409 voters will cast their votes in 840 constituencies of the National Assembly and four provincial assemblies of the country. The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) suspended polling in eight constituencies — two of the National Assembly and six of provincial assemblies — for various reasons, while a candidate has been declared winner from a provincial assembly seat unopposed.
There will be a total of 59,224,263 male voters and 46,731,146 woman voters, as per data released by the ECP. They will elect their representatives for 270 constituencies of the National Assembly and 570 constituencies of the four provincial assemblies. To this end, 85,058 polling stations and 244,687 polling booths have been established across the country, which will be manned by 819,119 polling staff, including presiding officers and assistant presiding officers. The ECP has declared 17,007 polling stations as "highly sensitive".
There are a total of 11,673 candidates in the fray, including 3,428 eyeing a National Assembly seat, while 8,245 are contesting provincial assembly seats. Of these, 1,623 candidates for the National Assembly and 4,389 candidates for provincial assemblies are contesting as Independents. Of the 120 political parties registered with the ECP, 95 are in the fray. Of them, 88 parties have fulfilled the ECP's prerequisite of fielding at least five percent of women candidates.
Security beefed up
As campaigning was gathering steam in the latter stages, a spate of suicide bombings targeted candidates of the major political parties. Siraj Raisani of the Balochistan Awami Party (BAP), Haroon Bilour of the Awami National Party (ANP) and Ikramullah Gandapur of the PTI were all targeted. In all, these bombings claimed over 200 lives, while hundreds more were left wounded. Ikram Khan Durrani, a former chief minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, survived two separate bombings.
Security has been beefed up for polling day, with around 371,000 army troops deployed throughout the country and over 800,000 security personal, including police and paramilitary forces, performing security duties. The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) has sought giving special magisterial powers to some designated army officers, while two army personnel have also been deployed inside and outside every polling station.
The National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACT), during the campaigning state, said 65 politicians — including PTI chief Imran Khan, PPP leader Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, ANP leader Asfandyar Wali and Qaumi Watan Party chief Aftab Ahmad Khan Sherpao — were all likely to be targeted.
Parties in the fray
Parties also utilised internet and social media more effectively this time as compared to previous elections, although there were also several false and fabricated allegations being leveled against political opponents through fake social media accounts.
The PTI, which has been running a campaign on the theme of anti-corruption and the need for change, has its votebank in Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and sections of the country's biggest city, Karachi. PTI chief Imran Khan has vociferously criticised PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif for amassing assets abroad and looting the public money.
On the other hand, PML-N has run its campaign on the slogan of "respect the sanctity of vote", while reiterating that the party would continue its development agenda. Sharif, who was arrested immediately upon his arrival in the country on 13 July, had been trying to convince his voters that he was against the country's powerful military establishment, that he stood for civilian governance, and claimed he was being victimised for taking this stance. His brother Shehbaz Sharif, led the campaign in Nawaz's absence.
The PML-N also alleged that it was not being provided a level playing field, its candidates were being threatened by secret telephone calls, and were pressured into withdrawing their candidature or to switch loyalties towards PTI. The party also faced many defections within its ranks in the last three months. The PML-N has focused its campaign mostly in its native Punjab province besides some pockets of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Karachi city. The party still believes it has the potential to put up a tough challenge to the PTI, though political observers maintain the latter is best placed to form the next federal government.
PPP leader Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, meanwhile, has been touring Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, while also focusing on Sindh, the party's power base. He has raised the slogan of eradicating poverty in the country, defeating terrorism and extremism, and to strengthen its democratic foundations to build a tolerant Pakistan.
The MMA, an electoral alliance of religio-political parties, has a major vote bank in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and it has mainly focused its campaign. The ANP is also a major party in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, after only the PTI and MMA. On the other hand, the GDA is a Sindh-based alliance, and has pitched its candidates against PPP. In Balochistan, the newly formed BAP is the major contestant.
Updated Date: Jul 27, 2018 00:06 AM