More than 24 hours after polling ended on Wednesday, Pakistan awaits an official announcement from the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) regarding the general election's outcome. While vote counting ─ amid allegations of fraud by PML-N and other political parties ─ has been tediously slow, preliminary results indicate that the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) has obtained a clear edge over other parties.
Although PTI workers and supporters started celebrations before the final results, no statement — or even a tweet — was issued by Imran Khan on his party's success until late afternoon on Thursday when he made his first public address via video link from Bani Gala.
The PTI chief shared his vision for the country ─ a Pakistan "that Jinnah dreamed of", touching upon governance, social, economic and foreign policy reform, as well as greater across-the-board accountability.
He also dismissed allegations that the elections were manipulated, but promised to facilitate political parties who sought investigations into these allegations.
In Punjab, with preliminary results from 241 constituencies available with ECP, PML-N is maintaining the lead after claiming victory on 104 seats while PTI is close behind with 101 seats to its name.
Meanwhile, PTI is clearly steering ahead in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa with clear victory on 63 seats against Muttahida Majlis–e–Amal (MMA), which is currently winning on 8 seats, as per unofficial results from 92 constituencies in the province.
The preliminary results from 75 constituencies in Sindh show PPP-P leading on 47 seats, followed by PTI on 13 seats.
In Balochistan, Balochistan Awami Party (BAP) is ahead on with 5 provincial seats, followed by Balochistan National Party (BNP) on 4 seats, based on unofficial results from 22 constituencies.
According to Geo News, Awami National Party leader Ghulam Ahmed Bilour conceded defeat to PTI's Shaukat Ali, his competitor on Peshawar's NA-31 seat, saying: "The results indicate that Imran Khan is a favourite leader of the people of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. I am a democratic person and I admit the defeat."
'Technical difficulties behind delay in results'
At a 4am press conference in the early hours of the day, Chief Election Commissioner Muhammad Raza Khan said that "technical difficulties" were behind the unprecedented delay.
CEC Khan congratulated the people of Pakistan for participating in a "democratic polling process", and expressed gratitude for the polling staff across the country as well as the security personnel deployed on Wednesday.
“I am aware that the delay in announcement of results has caused some annoyance. But it [Results Transmission System (RTS)] was a new system and we were implementing it for the first time. Therefore, there was some delay,” said the CEC.
Regarding political parties' grievances about polling agents not being given Form 45 (the statement of vote count) by presiding officers, he said: "It is not possible that a polling agent was not given the form. If there are any genuine complaints, we will take strict action."
To a question of how he would respond to allegations of rigging in the election, the CEC confidently replied: "We will prove ourselves that we did our job right."
He announced what he called the "first non-official, preliminary result" of the elections: PTI's Chaudhry Adnan won PP-11 (Rawalpindi VI) with 43,089 votes.
Besides, ECP Secretary Babar Yaqoob rejected the notion that there was any 'conspiracy' behind the delay in transmission of elections results. "The only reason for delay was a technical fault in the Results Transmission System (RTS), which stopped working when thousands of polling officers began using it simultaneously," he clarified.
Yaqoob said that the complaints by political parties regarding katchi receipts were being addressed and action would be taken on all genuine complaints.
He added that the ECP is compiling results that have been received via scanned copies of Form 45 and it had set aside the RTS for the time being to expedite the collation of polling data.
An ECP spokesperson had confirmed to DawnNewsTV that the delay was due to the breaking down of RTS, which is being run through a software powered by National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra).
According to data released by ECP, a total of 3,459 candidates — 1,623 from Punjab, 824 from Sindh, 725 from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and 287 from Balochistan — were cleared to run for the 272 general seats of the national assembly. However, elections in two constituencies — NA-60, NA-108 — were later postponed by the commission.
A single party will need to bag at least 137 of the directly elected seats to be able to form the government on its own.
PML-N, PPP cry foul
PML-N President Shahbaz Sharif at a mid-vote count press conference said his party rejects the poll results. In a tweet, he said the party had rejected the results "due to manifest and massive irregularities".
"Form-45 was not given to our agents, results were stopped and votes were counted in the absence of our polling agents. This is both unbearable and unacceptable," he said.
PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari also tweeted saying he had not received any official results from any constituency where he was contesting, despite it being past midnight. "My candidates [have been] complaining [that] polling agents have been thrown out of polling stations across the country. Inexcusable and outrageous."
PPP's Sherry Rehman also claimed that "there has been a clear trend of interference, in which all parties except one are being pushed to the wall".
"The whole election could be declared null and void considering just what has occurred over the last three hours," she said, adding that the party expects its complaints to be addressed by midnight.
PML-N spokesperson Marriyum Aurangzeb, while speaking to the media, raised objections over the counting process and alleged that the party's agents were being forced out from the polling stations in various constituencies.
“The counting process is being carried out behind closed doors and changes are being made to Form-45,” Aurangzeb alleged while talking to media persons.
In response, the provincial election commissioner in Punjab categorically denied the allegations levelled by PML-N. “Political leaders should refrain from levelling such baseless allegations without having any substantial proof,” the ECP official said.
Explaining the process, the election commissioner clarified that only one polling agent of every party is allowed inside the polling station at the time of counting of votes.
PPP's Maula Bux Chandio alleged that his party's agents were not allowed inside polling stations in Badin while PSP leader Raza Haroon made the same claim about the treatment meted out to his party's agents at different polling stations across Karachi.
The PPP, according to APP, had registered over 240 complaints with the ECP regarding deliberate delay in the polling process to restrict maximum number of people to cast their votes, restriction of polling agents' presence during the vote counting process and non-provision of Form 45 by polling staff to the agents in time.
Millions flock to polls
Millions of registered voters flocked to polling stations across the country today to cast their vote in Pakistan’s 11th general election. According to DawnNewsTV, the first vote was cast in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa's Charsadda district.
Halfway during polling, the PML-N sent a letter to the Chief Election Commissioner, seeking an extension in time by one hour. "The PML-N is making this demand under Section 70 of the Elections Act 2017, which authorises ECP to 'extend polling hours already fixed'," read the letter, signed by Senator Mushahid Hussain.
Citing "large-scale nationwide complaints", the letter added that only "3-4 people" are being allowed to enter the polling station at one time, slowing down the process. "This is not only causing inconvenience to voters [...] but may also end up depriving people from their right of vote."
PPP, PTI and Awami Muslim League (AML) Chief Sheikh Rashid had also requested the ECP to extend the polling time.
The ECP, after deliberation, rejected the requests for an extension of one hour. In a press release, the ECP said that all those who were present at polling stations before 6pm would be allowed to cast their votes.
Earlier in the day, before polling stations officially opened for voting at 8am, enthusiastic citizens had queued up outside their respective stations as early as 7am.
At 371,388, a record number of troops were deployed at polling stations at the ECP’s request to maintain law and order and take action against harassment. A total of 8,508 polling stations and 244,687 polling booths were established across the country.
Around 17,007 polling stations were declared "highly sensitive".
Other politicians and candidates, including former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, former Sindh chief minister Murad Ali Shah, MQM-P's Farooq Sattar, Pak Sarzameen Party (PSP) Chairman Mustafa Kamal, PTI Chairman Imran Khan, Bilawal Bhutto and JUI-F Chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman also took part in the polling process.
ECP spokesperson said that the commission has issued a notice to Khan, saying his vote could be disqualified after he cast his ballot in front of television cameras, violating “the secrecy of the ballot paper”, AP reported.
The polling process was temporarily halted at Quetta's Tameer-i-Nau Educational Complex school in the NA-260 constituency, where a suicide blast near a polling station around 11am left at least 31 people dead and 30 others injured.
Also in Balochistan, a grenade attack at a polling station in Koshk village in Khuzdar left a policeman dead and three others injured, according to AFP.
In Naseerabad, firing at a polling station left two people injured, DawnNewsTV reported.
Earlier, in a village in Swabi, a shooting between supporters of two rival political parties left one person dead and two people wounded, according to AP.
Clashes were also reported in Mardan, Rajanpur, Khipro and Kohistan. Polling was reportedly halted in Kohistan.
Polling was also halted at a school in Larkana serving as a polling station, where a cracker blast left three people injured.
According to the army's media wing, a military protection party accompanying NA-271 polling staff from Balochistan's Buleda area was ambushed at Dastuk near the Pak-Iran border on Tuesday night.
Security forces foiled the attempted attack and moved polling staff to a designated place, Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) said in a press release.
However, three security forces' personnel were martyred in the exchange of fire. They were identified as Sepoy Imran, 21, from Dera Bugti, Sepoy Jahanzeb, 25, from Chakwal, and Sepoy Akmal, 23, from Haripur.
A school teacher, Safiullah, who was serving as polling staff, was also killed, while 14 others, including 10 security personnel and four civilians, were injured.
Ten people who sustained serious wounds were evacuated to Karachi, while those who sustained minor injuries were evacuated to District Headquarters Hospital Turbat.
Polling continued at the polling station as planned, ISPR said.
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".
A public opinion survey conducted by the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) and the Herald magazine shows that the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) enjoys a slim lead at the national level over the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N).
This lead of 4 percentage points is outside the survey’s national margin of error – + 1.3 percentage points.
The Herald-SDPI survey finds that 14 per cent of the respondents in Punjab remain undecided. It is this group of voters that will clearly determine the final result of the 2018 election.
This finding is consistent with the polls conducted by Gallup and Pulse Consultants during May 2018 which also show that undecided voters hold the election in Punjab in the balance.