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Pakistan elections: Sharif favored to win as polls close

Published February 8, 2024last updated February 9, 2024

Over 100 million people were eligible to vote, but the country is still reeling from a deadly bomb blast in Balochistan on the eve of the election. DW has the latest.

 Man on motorbike in front of campaign banners of Nawaz Sharif
Polls have closed in Pakistan after a day of voting that saw violence in some locationsImage: Navesh Chitrakar/REUTERS
Skip next section What you need to know

What you need to know

  • More than 128 million voters were registered 
  • Key issues included the economic crisis, security issues and the power of the military
  • The projected front-runner is former Premier Nawaz Sharif of the Pakistan Muslim League
  • Former Prime Minister Imran Khan was barred from running
  • At least 26 people were killed in a bomb blast in Balochistan on the eve of the election

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Skip next section Pakistan counts votes, electoral commission demands results
February 9, 2024

Pakistan counts votes, electoral commission demands results

Pakistan's vote count following their national election on Thursday was marred by delays, leading the Election Commission of Pakistan on Friday moring to order returning officers to speed up the release of results.

By 3 a.m. local time (2200 GMT, Thursday), more than 10 hours after polls closed, only four provincial assembly results had been announced.

The delay has been blamed on "internet problems" after the closure by authorities of internet and phone access during the day.

The Interior Ministry said communications outages were "to maintain law and order" after two explosions on Wednesday by the "Islamic State" killed 28 people. 

Polls predicted a low turnout from the country's 128 million eligible voters. 

Violence disrupts Pakistan elections

Skip next section At least 12 killed in election day militant attacks
February 8, 2024

At least 12 killed in election day militant attacks

The Pakistani military said at least 12 people, mostly security officials, were killed in numerous militant attacks aiming to disrupt the elections. 

The attacks occurred in at least 51 places in the Pakistan'svolatile southwestern and northwestern regions that border Afghanistan and Iran, a statement said. 

As many as 39 pople have been wounded and five militants were also killed, it added. 

Around 600,000 security personnel including 137,000 troops were deployed around the country. 

On Wednesday, a day before the election, at least 30 people were killed in bombings at political offices in different locations. 

In a statement Thursday, the US State Department "strongly condemned" the election day violence. 

Violence disrupts Pakistan elections

Skip next section Mobile phone service partially restored: Interior Ministry
February 8, 2024

Mobile phone service partially restored: Interior Ministry

The Pakistani Interior Ministry announced that mobile telephone services were "partially restored" in some areas.

Those include cities in Punjab province, some in the southwestern Balochistan province and the majority of the southern province Sindh, except for the greater Karachi area. 

"Mobile services will be restored in the entire country soon," the ministry added on X, formerly Twitter. 

Skip next section Polls close in Pakistan after vote marred by violence
February 8, 2024

Polls close in Pakistan after vote marred by violence

Polling stations in Pakistan have officially closed.

DW's reporter in Karachi, Shamil Shams, has described how voting in the country's general elections was marred by communication disruption and sporadic clashes in some towns.

The turnout appeared to be low in many parts of the country, he said.

Three-time former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is expected to win the vote, according to Shams. But he says supporters of another ex-premier, Imran Khan, are also hoping that the incarcerated politician’s popularity will translate into an electoral success. 

TV channels are expected to make projections of first results a few hours after the close of voting.

A fairly clear picture of the outcome is likely early on Friday, with counting continuing through the night.

Skip next section 'Voting is a sacred duty,' voter tells DW
February 8, 2024

'Voting is a sacred duty,' voter tells DW

Scene with a crowd at a polling station in Lahore
More than 128 million people are registered to vote in PakistanImage: Tanvir Shahzad/DW

Pakistani voters have spoken to DW about what they see as the issues facing their country and why it is important to cast a ballot.

One man stressed that it was the obligation of everyone who was eligible to go out and vote.

"Voting is a sacred duty. Everyone should cast their vote as soon as possible. This will change the destiny of our country, God willing," he said.

This was also the opinion of another voter, who was, however, less optimistic about the outcome.

"Well, to be very honest, I have zero expectations of the whole electoral process. [...] But I think we have to vote because, you know, you can say that democracy, even the worst democracy, is better than aristocracy or bureaucracy," he said.

But another man expressed optimism that the election might have a transformative effect.

"Voting will bring a change. It happened before and change will come again. It's our belief that one day, through our votes, this system will change," he said.

One woman also spoke about how voting was the only way to effect change.

"Every single vote can change the whole country scenario, you know we are in very poor condition nowadays. Our country is facing so many problems," she said.

Another woman detailed what she saw as the main issues confronting the country.

"The economical condition. And the miserable condition of the lower class. And the middle class also, it's become miserable. No facilities, no basic facilities [like] education, no education facilities, no medical facilities. And there is a gap between rich, I mean, aristocratic families and the people. It's become larger and larger day by day," she said.

More than 128 million registered voters are eligible to choose the South Asian country's next government. 

Fact check: Pakistan's election marred by disinformation

Skip next section Several police killed in bomb, gun attack as violence mounts
February 8, 2024

Several police killed in bomb, gun attack as violence mounts

Attackers set off a bomb and opened fire on officers, killing five in Pakistan's northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, police said on Thursday.

"Four police officers and one Frontier Constabulary officer are reported dead and three police officers are injured," said Shahid Islam, a senior police official in Kulachi in Dera Ismail Khan district, where the attack took place.

The incident is the latest unrest in Pakistan during the general elections, with tens of thousands of soldiers deployed across in a bid to maintain security.

Earlier in the day, troops in the town of Kot Azam in northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa came under fire from unidentified gunmen, with one soldier killed, according to local police official Fiyyaz Khan.

Unidentified assailants also attacked two polling stations in southwestern Balochistan province with two hand grenades, hurting no one, but spreading panic among voters, police said. 

An unconfirmed report has also spoken of a blast near a polling station in southwest Pakistan that killed two people.

On the eve of the election, twin bombings in Balochistan hit election offices, killing at least 26 people.

Skip next section Low voter turnout could damage chances of Khan's PTI — DW correspondent
February 8, 2024

Low voter turnout could damage chances of Khan's PTI — DW correspondent

The turnout in the Pakistan elections has been fairly low in many cities as of noon, according to DW reporter Shamil Shams, who is following events from Karachi.

He said that if the trend continues, it could hurt the chances of ex-Prime Minister Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, which is relying on large voter numbers to trump its main rival, the Pakistan Muslim League of former three-time Premier Nawaz Sharif.

Candidates from the PTI are essentially barred from running under the party banner and appear on the ballot as independents.

Skip next section Imran Khan supporters slam closure of phone and internet
February 8, 2024

Imran Khan supporters slam closure of phone and internet

Supporters of jailed ex-Premier Imran Khan have told DW that the closure by authorities of internet and phone access is a ploy to dissuade them from voting for him — a claim Pakistan's caretaker government denies.

The lack of internet and phone access has at any rate created numerous problems for citizens wanting to cast their ballots, according to DW reporter Shamil Shams, who is located in Karachi.

Shams said that the Election Commission's polling hotline, which voters need for procedural matters, cannot be accessed, leading to a slowing of the voting process. 

He said there were also reports of sporadic electricity blackouts in some parts of the country as well.  

Pakistan to hold elections without Imran Khan party

Skip next section Voters brave cold weather, threat of violence
February 8, 2024

Voters brave cold weather, threat of violence

Pakistani voters have so far shown themselves undeterred by very cold weather in several parts of the country, while the threat of violence is highlighted by the tens of thousands of troops deployed across the country.

There has been heavy snowfall in the ski resort of Murree, near the capital, Islamabad, and snow also fell in eastern Punjab province and the mountains of southern Sindh province.

Panic broke out among voters at two polling stations in southwestern Balochistan province after unidentified assailants threw hand grenades, police said.

The incident comes after twin bombings in the region hit election offices on Wednesday, killing at least 26 people.

In northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, which borders Afghanistan, troops in the town of Kot Azam came under fire from unidentified gunmen, with one soldier killed, according to local police official Fiyyaz Khan. 

Skip next section Pakistan suspends mobile telephone services for election day
February 8, 2024

Pakistan suspends mobile telephone services for election day

Mobile phone services across Pakistan have been suspended for a day as the country goes to the polls, the interior ministry said, citing the need to "maintain law and order."

In a statement, a ministry spokesman said: "It has been decided to temporarily suspend the mobile service across the country."

The build-up to Thursday's election has seen an upturn in violence in Pakistan, including a bomb attack which left at least 26 people dead in Balochistan on Wednesday.

Skip next section 'Law and order is collapsing' but Pakistan 'determined to have elections'
February 8, 2024

'Law and order is collapsing' but Pakistan 'determined to have elections'

Pakistan's former ambassador to the United Kingdom and the Ireland has said the bombings on the eve of the country's parliamentary elections suggest a "collapse in law and order" and undermine efforts to establish a democratic process.

"These violent groups which are committing so much violence throughout Pakistan are very deliberately targeting the electoral process in order to disrupt what is happening," Akbar Ahmed told DW.

"This causes a lot of dismay, anger and confusion, and just adds to the sense of the elections being a very, very difficult exercise — the violence, the lack of faith in the process, the general sense in the public that the elections may be rigged, may not be fair and free."

Nevertheless, he said he saw Pakistan as "a nation determined to have elections," something which he believes should be important to the West.

"[Pakistan is] a nation of 230-240 million people," he said. "It's the only nuclear country in the Muslim world. It had the first female Prime Minister. Geopolitically, it has India on one side, China on the other, and Iran and Afghanistan on its western borders.

"So, in spite of all the crises, in spite of the problems, I think the West should be encouraged that Pakistan is ensuring that elections take place as freely and fairly as possible."

Skip next section What are the issues?
February 8, 2024

What are the issues?

Pakistan's new government will have their work cut out for them, and foremost on any agenda will be addressing an ongoing economic crisis

Pakistan currently faces high unemployment combined with skyrocketing prices of basic goods and energy. 

This is compounded by political turmoil, with many voters saying they believe the contest has been decided in advance by Pakistan's powerful military.

Voter apathy has been reflected in a lackluster campaign season in the run up to voting day. 

Pakistan: Elections amid energy and economic crisis

Security issues are another problem, with militant attacks occurring at a greater frequency in recent months.

In the latest incident on Wednesday, two bombings in Baluchistan province killed at least 26 people. An offshoot of the so-called "Islamic State" claimed responsibility for one of the blasts. 

Authorities have said they are boosting security at polling booths following the attacks. 

Pakistan elections: What is at stake?


Skip next section Who are the main contenders?
February 8, 2024

Who are the main contenders?

Forty-four political parties will compete, but the projected front-runner is the Pakistan Muslim League, led by three-time former Premier Nawaz Sharif, who returned to Pakistan from exile last year. 

Sharif is currently considered as the top contender to become prime minister, and analysts say his return comes with the backing of Pakistan's powerful military establishment.

The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), led by Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, son of assassinated former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, could play the role of kingmaker if no single party wins enough seats to form a government outright.

Bilawal Bhutto: 'Pakistan needs an end to divisive politics'

Independent candidates have the option to join any party after the elections.

However, former cricket star Imran Khan is barred from running and is currently serving a jail term on charges linked to corruption and revealing state secrets. 

Khan was ousted in an April 2022 no-confidence vote, ostensibly after falling out with Pakistan's military establishment. 

Candidates from Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) are essentially barred from running under the party banner and appear on the ballot as independents.

Critics say Pakistan's military has conspired to keep Khan and the PTI away from the levers of power, and therefore have questioned the election's legitimacy. 

Military maintains tight hold on Pakistan ahead of elections

Skip next section How does the election work?
February 8, 2024

How does the election work?

Polls opened on Thursday in Pakistan's 12th general elections, with more than 128 million registered voters eligible to choose the South Asian country's next government. 

Voting will take place for 336 seats in the federal legislature, called the National Assembly, and for 749 seats in state legislatures called the Provincial Assembly, comprising Baluchistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab and Sindh provinces.

In the federal legislature, 266 seats are decided on polling day, and 70 seats (60 for women/10 for non-Muslims) are allotted according to each party's strength.

Members of the polling staff assembly voting booth at a polling station for the parliamentary elections, in Karachi
A result is expected by FridayImage: Fareed Khan/AP Photo/picture alliance

The election primarily uses a first-past-the-post electoral system. 

After the election, the new parliament will choose the country's next prime minister. If no party wins an outright majority, then the one with the biggest share of assembly seats can form a coalition government.

The new prime minister picks Cabinet ministers, who form the federal government.

Pakistan minister: February 8 elections 'will be fair'

Skip next section When can we expect results?
February 8, 2024

When can we expect results?

Polls are scheduled to open at 8 a.m. (03:00 UTC) and voting will continue until 5 p.m. local time. 

Ballots will be counted soon after polls close, and tentative, unofficial results are expected to emerge within a few hours.

The Election Commission of Pakistan is required by law to publish official results within 14 days of the election.

However, official results could be announced as early as Friday. 

The latest official results could be announced is Thursday, February 22.