Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Elections 2024: Mobile phone services temporarily suspended as millions head to the polls in Pakistan

Pakistan’s government suspended mobile phone services nationwide on February 8, the election day, citing terror attacks and the need to “maintain law and order” as voting began at 8 am.

“It has been decided to temporarily suspend the mobile service across the country,” the Interior Ministry spokesman said in a statement. The spokesman said “precious lives have been lost” in recent militant attacks in Pakistan and “security measures are essential to maintain law and order situation and to deal with potential threats”.

Security threats

In the lead-up to the elections, there has been a notable increase in attacks by religiously motivated militant groups like the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and ethno-nationalist Baloch insurgents. The situation intensified on February 7 with at least 28 death and over 40 injuries reported from violence, particularly in the southern regions of Pakistan. This included two separate blasts targeting election offices in Balochistan province.

Thursday morning saw the continuation of violence, as reports emerged of a paramilitary soldier being fatally shot by unidentified gunmen at a polling station in Tank, located in the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. According to police, the attack targeted a Frontier Corps security party.

Responding to the escalating security concerns, the Pakistani interior ministry issued a directive to temporarily suspend mobile services across the country.

Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja addressed the media on Thursday morning, acknowledging the unfortunate attacks in Balochistan the previous day which lead to the decision of mobile suspension. “There were two unfortunate attacks in Balochistan [on Wednesday] in which there were a lot of deaths, so this [mobile suspension] is the decision of the law enforcement agencies,” Sultan Raja told reporters. “We can give our recommendations but we can’t interfere.”

Voting delays

The temporary suspension of mobile services aimed to safeguard against potential security threats in light of a deteriorating security situation led to reports of voting delays in several areas, with many voters struggling to locate their polling places due to the unavailability of the Election Commission’s information hotline.

Despite the disruptions, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) maintained that the suspension of cellphone and internet services did not impact its operations. However, candidates and members of the public criticized the decision, labeling it as a hindrance to fair elections.

Pakistan Elections 2024

Some 128 million people in Pakistan are voting in crucial general elections 2024 to elect a new government for the next five years amid heightened security and suspension of cellphone and mobile internet services.

The voting began at 8 and will continue until 5 p.m. local time (1200GMT).

Over 90,000 polling stations have been set up across all four provinces for this week’s vote, with nearly 128 million registered voters expected to come out to cast their ballots to elect representatives for the national and provincial legislative assemblies. Around 16,766 polling stations have been designated as highly sensitive, according to officials.

Around 100 international observers are in Pakistan to monitor the crucial polls, according to the Information Ministry.

Pakistan Elections 2024 Key Facts

  • Over 90,000 polling stations have been set up across all four provinces.
  • 128 million registered voters are expected to cast their ballots.
  • Votes will be cast for 266 general seats of the lower house (National Assembly) and 749 general seats of the country’s four provincial assemblies.
  • Nearly 18,000 candidates are vying for seats in the national and four provincial assemblies.

Pakistan deploys 650,000 to ensure security on February 8

Pakistani officials have deployed more than 650,000 army, paramilitary and police personnel to provide security on the election day.

This includes:

  • 137,000 security personnel from paramilitary and army units
  • 511,000 police personnel

“About 650,000 security personnel have been deployed on the ground to ensure the security of the voters,” Pakistan’s Caretaker Interior Minister Dr. Gohar Ejaz told reporters in Islamabad. “We have a three-tier security system: firstly, the police, behind them, the civil armed forces, and behind them, the armed forces,” Ejaz said.

Key political parties

During the elections 2024, the main contests are expected to be between candidates backed by Imran Khan, whose Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party won the last national election, and the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) of three-time premier Nawaz Sharif. Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the 35-year-old son of former premier Benazir Bhutto, who is leading the center-left Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) has also conducted an aggressive campaign for the top office.

Several other regional and religio-political parties including Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), the Awami National Party (ANP) and the Balochistan National Party (BNP) are also competing for seats in the national and provincial assemblies.

Key politicians cast votes

Former Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif voted in Lahore while PTI leader Barrister Gohar Ali Khan ast his ballot in the Bunir area of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa​​​​​​​ province.

Former Prime Minister Imran Khan will cast his vote through a mail-in ballot in jail while the former foreign minister and PTI leader Shah Mahmood Qureshi, ex-Punjab province Chief Minister Chaudhry Parvez Elahi, and former Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmad will also cast their votes from jail through postal ballots.

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