The polling time has ended for elections to 16 general seats of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly in the first-ever provincial assembly polls held in KP's merged tribal districts on Saturday.
The seven tribal areas were integrated last year into the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Before that, the tribal areas were federally administered, and residents could only vote in the national assembly.
Sohail Khan, a spokesman for the provincial election body, said 285 candidates, including two women, were running for the 16 seats.
The voters present inside the polling stations were allowed to cast their votes even beyond the 5pm deadline. The counting of votes is underway and unofficial, unverified results have started emerging.
A delay in official and verified results is expected as ECP officials cite the non-availability of technology and the remote locations of many polling stations.
As per the unofficial results reported at 11:30pm, independent candidates appeared to have a majority with seven seats, PTI was in second position with a leading position in four seats, Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) and Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) had obtained a lead on two seats each, and the Awami National Party was leading on one seat.
As many as 2.8 million residents of the merged tribal districts exercised their franchise today.
Polling opened at 8am amid tight security and continued until 5pm without any breaks. According to reports from the area, voter turnout remained decent.
The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) had set up 1,897 polling stations across the region, previously called Fata. Of them, 554 were declared highly sensitive and 461 sensitive.
People in many districts had started lining up outside polling stations in the morning, with reports suggesting that the polling process started between 8:00am and 8:30am in all districts.
"Today is a historic day," a voter named Ajmal Mohmand told DawnNewsTV. He said the people of his area were now hopeful that their elected representatives would raise issues of the tribal residents in the KP Assembly.
No major untoward incident was reported from most districts, however, at a polling station in PK-103 constituency of Mohmand, an exchange of fire took place between the supporters of two political parties.
The firing left two men — a worker of the Awami National Party and a passerby — injured, according to police. Voting continued at the polling station following the incident and police are making efforts to arrest the suspects.
Tens of thousands of troops and special police units were sent to the province for polling day but there were several complaints of vote-rigging and influence peddling by some of the candidates and their supporters.
“It's the first time we are electing our representatives for the provincial assembly but unfortunately most of the candidates are lavishly spending money on their political campaigns and buying votes,” said one tribesman, Bilal Rahman Afridi, in Jamrud subdivision of Khyber tribal district.
“How can they serve us when they are elected on the basis of their wealth?” he asked.
The ECP secretary visited the control room established inside the commission's secretariat after the polling ended. He was informed by officials that the ECP received a total of four complaints from the tribal districts during polling.
The ECP had finalised arrangements for the elections on Friday and handed over the relevant materials to the polling staff in their respective areas.
While claiming to have adopted foolproof security for the polls, the government has said 34,497 security personnel have been deployed across the region and they included personnel of the Pakistan Army, police, Frontier Corps, Levies and Khasadar Force.
There are 285 candidates for 16 general seats, including nominees of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl, Awami National Party, Pakistan Peoples Party- Parliamentarians, Jamaat-i-Islami, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and Qaumi Watan Party, and independents.
Two women candidates, including Naheed Afridi of the ANP and Malasa of the JI, are contesting election in PK- 106 Khyber-I and PK-109 Kurram-II respectively.
Of the 16 general seats, three are for Bajaur and Khyber tribal districts each and two for Mohmand, Kurram, North Waziristan and South Waziristan tribal districts each, while the former Frontier Regions of Peshawar, Kohat, Bannu, Lakki Marwat, Dera Ismail Khan and Tank jointly have one seat.
Five seats reserved for women and non-Muslims will be filled through proportional representation of seats won by a political party.
Eight candidates are in the running for four seats reserved for women, while there are three contestants for a seat reserved for non-Muslims.
A total of 2.80 million residents, including 1.67 million men and 1.13 million women, were registered to exercise their right to vote.
Of the 1,897 polling stations, 482 were for men and 376 for women, while 1,039 were combined. A total of 5,653 polling booths were established. They included 3,437 for men and 2,216 for women.
Also, the ECP had deputed 1,897 presiding officers, 5,653 assistant presiding officers and 5,653 polling officers.
While all polling stations were established in the respective constituencies, certain stations of PK-110 Orakzai and PK-112 North Waziristan-II were set up in the adjoining settled districts for internally displaced persons.
Twenty-three polling stations were established in Kohat for Mamuzai tribe, 23 in Hangu for Alikhel and Mulakhel tribes of Orakzai Agency, and 13 in Bannu for IDPs of PK-112 North Waziristan.
The ECP had notified the deployment of the personnel of armed forces and civil armed forces outside every polling station and both outside and inside the highly sensitive polling stations from July 18 to July 21 for helping it conduct elections in a free, fair and transparent manner.
It had also assigned magisterial powers to the presiding officers and designated officer in charge of armed forces and civil armed forces for entire duration of their deployment in respect of offences under Elections Act’s Section 169 (personation) and Section 171 (capturing of polling station or polling booth).
With additional reporting by Nadir Guramani in Islamabad.