New Delhi: Pakistan is holding its 16th general elections today to elect the members of the National Assembly and the four provincial assemblies. The elections are seen as a test of the country’s democracy, stability, and security, as well as the fate of the main political parties and leaders.
The voting began at 8:30 am (Indian time) and will continue till 5:30 pm, with more than 12.8 crore voters expected to cast their ballots through paper. The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has deployed around 6.5 lakh security personnel, including army and paramilitary forces, to ensure a peaceful and fair polling process. The ECP has also suspended mobile phone and internet services in several parts of the country, especially in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where militant attacks have increased in the run-up to the elections.
The elections are being held amid a political crisis, as the former Prime Minister and the founder of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), Imran Khan, is serving a seven-year jail term on corruption charges. His party, which was the largest in the previous elections, has been stripped of its electoral symbol by the Supreme Court and is forced to field its candidates as independents. Khan has appealed to his supporters to vote for his allies and to wait outside the polling stations until the results are announced.
The main contenders in the elections are the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), led by another former Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), led by the former Foreign Minister and the son of the late Benazir Bhutto, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. Sharif, who is 74 years old, is eyeing to become the Prime Minister for a record fourth time, while Bilawal, who is 33 years old, is hoping to revive his party’s fortunes and become the youngest Prime Minister in the country’s history.
The elections are also being contested by several other parties, such as the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI), led by Fazal-ur-Rehman, the Balochistan Awami Party (BAP), led by Jam Kamal Khan, and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), led by Farooq Sattar. The elections will also see the participation of two transgender candidates, Nayyab Ali and Maria Khan, who are contesting from Okara and Peshawar, respectively.
The results of the elections are expected to be known by late night, and the ECP will officially announce them on 9th February. There are 336 seats in the National Assembly, out of which 266 are directly elected and 70 are reserved (60 for women and 10 for non-Muslims). A party or a coalition needs at least 169 seats to form the government. The elections are also being held for 728 seats in the four provincial assemblies, out of which 577 are directly elected and 151 are reserved.
The elections are being held at a time when Pakistan is facing multiple challenges, such as an economic crisis, a pandemic, a water shortage, a power crisis, and strained relations with its neighbors, especially India and Afghanistan. The elections are also closely watched by the international community, especially the US, China, and Saudi Arabia, which have significant interests and influence in the region. The elections will determine the future direction and leadership of Pakistan, which is a nuclear-armed and strategically important country.