(Quetta) At least 28 people were killed Wednesday in two separate locations in southwest Pakistan in two explosions caused by IEDs near the offices of candidates in Thursday’s legislative and provincial elections.
More than half a million security forces were deployed for the vote, for which authorities began distributing ballots to more than 90,000 polling stations on Wednesday.
A sharp increase in violence was observed in the days preceding the election. At least two candidates were shot dead during the campaign and dozens of others were attacked across the country.
“The aim of today’s (Wednesday) explosions was to sabotage the election,” said Jan Achakzai, the information minister of Balochistan province, the site of the two attacks.
Despite these attacks, “the election will take place tomorrow (Thursday). People in Balochistan will vote tomorrow without any fear,” he said.
A first explosion of an IED killed 16 people, near the office of an independent candidate in the provincial elections, in the district of Pishin, about 50 km north of Quetta, the capital of Balochistan, according to Mr. Achakzai and the local police.
A second IED exploded near the election office of the local candidate of the conservative religious party JUI-F (Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-F), in the main market in the town of Killa Saifullah, about 150 km to the northeast of Quetta, leaving at least 12 dead, said Mr. Achakzai.
A total of 34 people were also injured in the two attacks.
Baluchistan, a province rich in hydrocarbons and minerals, bordering Afghanistan and Iran, has long been the scene of separatist violence. Jihadist groups, such as the Islamic State (IS), are also active there.
Fallen from grace
The credibility of the elections in this Islamic republic of 240 million inhabitants was cast into doubt in advance, with the incarceration of popular former Prime Minister Imran Khan and the repression against his party.
The campaign officially ended at midnight on Tuesday and polls are scheduled to open at 8 a.m. local time (10 p.m. Eastern) on Thursday, closing at 5 p.m.
In Lahore, the capital of the east-central Punjab province, returning officers accompanied by police began taking green bags full of ballots to polling stations on Wednesday.
“The organization in terms of security is much better, because the ECP (the Electoral Commission, editor’s note) installed its application and took other measures,” explained an electoral office manager, Mohammad Baqir, in reference to electronic surveillance of those who collect ballots.
“The work is going smoothly,” he insisted. Some 128 million voters are called to the polls, in the fifth most populous country in the world.
Nearly 18,000 candidates are standing in the elections to obtain a seat in the National Assembly or provincial assemblies.
The National Assembly has 336 deputies, of which 266 are elected by a single-member ballot and 70 others by proportional representation (60 seats reserved for women and 10 for religious minorities: Christians, Hindus, etc.).
Having fallen out of favor with the army – which had nevertheless supported him in 2018 – after violently criticizing it, Imran Khan was sentenced to three long prison terms for corruption, treason and illegal marriage.
And his party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), was unable to campaign on the ground and in the media, only finding refuge on social networks.
The door thus seems open to Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) which could, at 74, become prime minister for the fourth time.
“It’s a… carnival atmosphere. The elections are the day after tomorrow, but we are already celebrating,” he declared on Tuesday for his last meeting in front of 15,000 people in Kasur, near Lahore.
Nawaz Sharif returned to Pakistan in October after four years of exile in London. Analysts believe that he made an agreement with the army, which he had previously criticized for having excluded him from the previous elections.
Since his return, he has benefited from the annulment of several previous convictions for corruption.
Political chaos, coupled with deteriorating security and a severe economic crisis, is leaving Pakistanis “more despondent than they have been in decades,” Gallup observed Tuesday.
According to this polling institute, “seven out of 10 Pakistanis do not have confidence in the integrity of the elections”, “a significant regression compared to recent years”.