Candidates close to Khan in the lead
The television channels based their projections on counts carried out at the local constituency level. While Imran Khan’s PTI party was not allowed to run as a party in Thursday’s elections, tallies by local TV channels show that independent candidates – including dozens affiliated with his party – are leading in most constituencies.
The Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N), supported by the army according to observers, was nevertheless the big favorite of the election, its leader, Nawaz Sharif, hoping to lead the country for the fourth time at the end of the election.
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Before the announcement of the first results, PTI chief organizer Omar Ayub Khan expressed confidence that his party was well placed. “Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf-backed independent candidates have the capacity to form the next federal government with a two-thirds majority,” he said in a video statement released to the media.
Election posters of Nawaz Sharif in Lahore, February 9, 2024. — © AAMIR QURESHI / AFP
Internet and mobile phone services cut
More than 650,000 members of the security forces had been deployed to secure the vote, bloodied on Wednesday by the death of 28 people in two bomb attacks claimed by the Islamic State (IS) group, in the province of Baluchistan (southwest). ).
On Thursday, a total of 51 attacks occurred, which left twelve people dead, including ten members of the security forces, the army said in a statement.
The Ministry of the Interior announced in the evening that mobile telephone services, cut across the country since the beginning of the morning, officially for security reasons, were beginning to be restored. Mobile Internet had also been cut off, reported Netblocks, an organization that monitors cybersecurity and Internet governance.
“The current Internet shutdown is among the most rigorous and extensive that we have observed in any country,” Alp Toker, director of Netblocks, told AFP, denouncing a “fundamentally undemocratic practice.”
The fairness of the vote was questioned in advance. Imran Khan, 71, was sentenced to three long prison terms. And his party was decimated by arrests and forced defections, and prevented from campaigning.
Voters depend on texting to find out where to vote. One of them, Abdul Jabbar, 40, said he was prevented from using the service and locating his polling station because of Internet problems. “Other PTI supporters eventually helped us find him,” he said.
A democratic setback
70% of Pakistanis “do not have confidence in the integrity of the elections,” the Gallup Institute pointed out this week. This reflects a democratic decline for a country led for decades by the army, but which had seen progress since 2013, the year of the first transition between civilian governments.
If the army has always had a strong influence even under civilian power, observers believe that it interfered even more openly in these elections. Imran Khan, who benefited from her favors to be elected in 2018, challenged her head-on, accusing her of having orchestrated his ouster from the post of prime minister in April 2022 and blaming her for his legal troubles.
On this subject: A Pakistani election dictated by the army
The outcome of the vote could depend on participation, particularly among young people, in a country where 44% of the electorate is under 35 years old.
Pakistan, which has a nuclear arsenal and occupies a strategic position between Afghanistan, China, India and Iran, faces innumerable challenges. Security has deteriorated, particularly since the return to power of the Taliban in Afghanistan in August 2021. Its economy is in tatters, with an abysmal debt and inflation around 30%.