After a campaign restricted by guns and bombs, Pakistan on Friday geared for its first ever elections under civilian watch. Despite reports of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) asking its fighters to carry out suicide attacks at polling stations across the country, enthusiasm for the polls was palpable with expectations of a high turnout.
However, by all predictions, the elections will throw up a hung Parliament. While the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) retains an edge, the surveys show cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) nudging Pakistan People's Party (PPP) to third position.
The PTI has essentially gained traction in the media because it was among the few parties that could campaign freely without fear of terror attacks. Unlike the PPP, the Awami National Party (ANP) and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) — the three main parties that formed the ruling coalition between 2008 and 2013 — the PTI and the PML(N) carried out an energetic campaign in Punjab. In fact, Punjab was the only province that saw an animated campaign as terrorists struck in all other provinces at will.
The media was the biggest beneficiary of the restricted campaign as all parties turned to advertising to woo voters. Such was the advertisement blitzkrieg that it almost appeared that the “paid content’’ made up the bulk of airtime on television channels for the past month.
Given the threats issued by terrorist organisation, security has been doubled up for election day with the military also being roped in to secure polling stations particularly in sensitive areas. As always, there was the possibility of mobile phone services being blocked during the polling time to prevent bomb attacks. Over 100 people have been killed — most of them in bomb attacks — since campaign started about a month ago. Even on Friday, there were blasts in Miramshah in North Waziristan and Quetta killing five people.
After the cleansing of electoral rolls, 86,189,802 voters have been registered. Of this, 37,597,415 voters are women and in many an area separate polling booths have been set up to for them. Still, there were reports of communities banning their women from going out to vote. Several parties — including the PML(N), the PPP and Jamat-e-Islami — have got into agreements in different parts of Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa to bar women from casting their votes, according to Dawn.com.
Counting will be taken up immediately after close of polls at 5 p.m. on Saturday and trends are likely to be established by midnight but the political uncertainty is likely to persist for some more days in a country that has never before seen a democratic transition.