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Pakistan election: officials warned to release results swiftly amid unusual delays


Pakistan’s vote count following a national election has been hit by unusual delays, leading the country’s election panel to issue a late-night warning to polling officers, 10 hours after polls closed, to release results immediately.

An “internet issue” was the reason behind the delay, said Zafar Iqbal, special secretary at the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), after he announced the first official results for a constituency, more than 10 hours after the polling process ended on Thursday.

The election had already been marred by militant attacks and suspension of mobile phone services, with no indication of a clear leader many hours after voting ended.

The south Asian country is struggling to recover from an economic crisis while it grapples with rising militant violence in a deeply polarised political environment.

The main contests are expected to be between candidates backed by jailed former prime minister Imran Khan, whose party won the last national election, and the Pakistan Muslim League of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, who analysts say is backed by the powerful military.

With counting continuing through the night, a clear picture was likely to emerge early on Friday.

Early indicators, with about 20% of the votes counted – largely from urban areas – showed a surprise lead for the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), Khan’s political party.

Supporters of jailed former prime minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, celebrate unofficial preliminary partial results at the end of election day, in Peshawar, Pakistan, on Thursday. Photograph: Bilawal Arbab/EPA

Projected results on all local television channels were unusually slow coming in. In previous elections, by midnight local time on election day, there was a clearer picture about which party had a substantial lead.

“The Election Commission has ordered all provincial election commissioners and returning officers to announce all results in half an hour or strict action will be taken,” a statement from the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) said, minutes before it announced its first official result.

The national assembly has 265 seats and polling in one seat was postponed due to the death of a candidate. A party needs 133 seats for a simple majority but many analysts believe the vote may not produce a clear winner.

Sharif, considered by many analysts to be a strong candidate, dismissed talk of an unclear result.

“Don’t talk about a coalition government. It is very important for a government to get a clear majority … It should not be relying on others,” he told reporters after casting his vote in the eastern city of Lahore.

Sources told the Guardian that Sharif had already written his victory speech, which he had been due to give at the party headquarters in Lahore at 7pm, but it was cancelled as the initial results began to come in.

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 shootings.

At least 26 people were also killed in two explosions near electoral candidates’ offices in the south-western province of Balochistan on Wednesday. Islamic State later claimed responsibility for those attacks.

Thursday’s victims included five police killed in a bomb blast and firing on a patrol in the Kulachi area of Dera Ismail Khan district in the north-west, authorities said. Two children died in a blast outside a women’s polling station in Balochistan.

“Despite a few isolated incidents, the overall situation remained under control, demonstrating the effectiveness of our security measures,” caretaker interior minister Gohar Ejaz said in a statement.

Mobile phone services suspended for security reasons were being partially resumed, the interior ministry said late on Thursday.

Khan’s PTI party, in a post on X, called on people to remove passwords from their personal wifi accounts “so anyone in the vicinity” could have internet access.

The military had done everything to sideline Khan and the PTI from politics in what many saw as a clear bid to keep them from returning to power, after Khan had a dramatic fallout with senior army leaders and was toppled from power in 2022.

Khan has been in jail since August and was unable to contest the election. Last week he was given three separate court sentences that would put him behind bars for more than a decade in cases he alleged were politically motivated.

His PTI party was subjected to a lengthy crackdown in the run-up to the vote, preventing its candidates from being able to contest freely. PTI leaders had alleged that the suspension of mobile services was an attempt to prevent high voter turnout, which was widely seen to benefit PTI.

Given the strength of the military’s campaign against Khan, few had expected his party to be allowed to return to power as a result of Thursday’s election.

Washington was concerned about “steps that were taken to restrict freedom of expression, specifically around internet and cellphone use,” state department deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel told reporters.

The US strongly condemned election-related violence both in the run-up to the polls and on election day, Patel added.

With Reuters



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