Campaigning season is over and 105 million voters head to polls today in Pakistan for what could be a historic election.
The three main contenders to take over the government are the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz party and their jailed former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, the Pakistan People’s Party and the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf party under former cricket star Imran Khan.
Voting is set to begin at 8am (GMT +5), with a total of 371,388 army personnel deployed at 85,000 polling stations as a precautionary security measure. Polls will close at 6pm, after which polling staff will begin the vote count. The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has requested the media not to air unofficial results before 7pm.
The government has declared July 25 a public holiday in an effort to encourage maximum voter participation.
For the election live-update tracker, Dawn has got you covered here.
For more on each party’s background and policies read Dawn’s coverage here.
If you are in Pakistan and want to know how to cast your vote, please read here.
Election campaigns came to a close on Monday night with PML-N and PTI leadership rounding off their campaigns by predicting victory for themselves.
On the last day of canvassing, PTI chief Imran Khan addressed four meetings in Lahore, PML-N president Shahbaz Sharif concluded his party’s election campaign by holding a public meeting in Dera Ghazi Khan. PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari addressed people in Shahdatkot, Garhi Khairi, Jacobabad, Shikarpur and Garhi Yasin before going to the graves of former prime ministers Benazir Bhutto and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.
“Despite all odds PML-N is winning the July 25 polls. We will form the government at the Centre and in Punjab as our victory is certain,” said Sharif addressing the crowd in D.G. Khan. He urged the people to vote for his party to “free Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz from jail”.
Khan addressed rallies at strategic points in Lahore to prop up his party’s chances. One of his rallies was organised in the constituency from where he himself is a contestant, facing a big challenge from tough-talking PML-N’s Khawaja Saad Rafique. “This is the time to change your destiny. You must come out to vote on July 25. You must bring others out to vote on the day,” he said.
Questions raised about ‘free and fair’ elections
The general election has been criticised by some quarters for not being “free and fair”.
Questions have been raised over the role of the armed forces in the polling process; restrictions being placed on the media; participation of banned groups; NAB pressure on election candidates as well as the detention of political workers in the run-up to the polls.
Days ahead of the polls, former Senate chairman and PPP stalwart Raza Rabbani hit out at the ECP’s “criminal silence” over perceived irregularities in the run-up to the polls, warning of “dire consequences” for the government if the elections are “engineered”.