Pakistan began counting votes after polling ended on Thursday in a general election marred by militant attacks and suspension of mobile phone services, with authorities saying that at least nine people were killed across the country.
The vote was held as the South Asian country struggles to recover from an economic crisis while it grapples with rising militant violence in a deeply polarised political environment.
TV channels are expected to make projections of first results a few hours after the close of voting at 5pm (1200 GMT) and a clear picture is likely to emerge early on Friday as counting continues through the night. Many analysts believe the vote may not produce a clear winner.
Thousands of troops were deployed on the streets and at polling stations across the country and borders with Iran and Afghanistan were temporarily closed as security was stepped up to ensure peaceful polling.
Despite the heightened security, nine people, including two children, were killed in bomb blasts, grenade attacks and firing incidents.
The interior ministry said it took the security steps after at least 26 people were killed in two explosions near electoral candidates’ offices in the southwestern province of Balochistan on Wednesday. Daesh later claimed responsibility for those attacks.
Thursday’s victims included five policemen killed in a bomb blast and firing on a patrol in the Kulachi area of Dera Ismail Khan district in the northwest, authorities said. Two children died in a blast outside a women’s polling station in Balochistan.
Mohsin Dawar, a candidate from North Waziristan — said in a letter to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), that some polling stations in his constituency were taken over by local “Taliban” who were threatening polling staff and locals.
There was no immediate confirmation from the election commission or security forces.
In spite of the security worries and bitter winter cold, people lined up at polling stations hours before voting was due to start. “The country is at stake, why should I come late?” said 86-year-old Mumtaz, a housewife a decade older than Pakistan itself as she queued up in Islamabad.
The move to suspend mobile networks sparked criticism from leaders of opposition parties, with the Pakistan Peoples Party’s Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the 35-year-old son of former premier Benazir Bhutto, calling for its “immediate restoration.”
Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja said the decision on mobile networks was made by “law and order agencies” following Wednesday’s violence and the commission would not interfere in the matter.
Jailed former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) party, in a post on X, called on people to remove passwords from their personal Wifi accounts “so anyone in the vicinity can have access to internet on this extremely important day.”
Some voters also expressed anger at the suspension of mobile services. ECP officials said they received several complaints from people who were unable to find their polling stations because of the internet shutdown.