The party of Pakistan’s former prime minister Nawaz Sharif claimed victory on Thursday as the vote counting began after a chaotic day of polling that saw rigging allegations by the opposition amid and internet shutdown and deadly violence.
Polls closed at 5pm (1200 GMT) after thousands of people defied deadly attacks to queue up to vote for only a third transfer of power between civilian governments in the coup-prone nation in several decades. The election panel said it would still allow people who are waiting in queues to vote beyond 5pm.
Hamza Shehbaz, a nephew of Sharif and a candidate for the national legislature, said in the eastern city of Lahore his party would win a majority.
“God willing, we will reach comfortably a simple majority,” Shehbaz told reporters outside the polling station after casting his vote.
The party of Sharif’s main rival, Imran Khan, accused the authorities of political engineering, citing the suspension of mobile and internet services.
“This is brazen political engineering,” said Raoof Hasan, spokesman for Khan’s party. At least five security personnel - four police officers and a soldier - were killed in the north-western region when their vehicle was attacked with a hand grenade, local media reported.
Provisional early results were expected to start tickling in after an hour. Long queues were seen in cities like Lahore in the east, as voting gathered steam in the afternoon after a slow start in the morning. The polling sites were tightly guarded by police and the military after twin bombings by militants a day earlier killed more than two dozen people in the province of Balochistan.
The South Asian nuclear power with a population of more than 240 million was holding elections in the hopes of easing a turbulent political upheaval in recent years, with both Sharif and Khan being removed from office prematurely, and the country’s economy sinking to a lowest level.
More than 128 million people were eligible to vote, making it one of the largest democratic exercises in the world.
Sharif was a front-runner to lead the country for a record fourth time in public opinion surveys ahead of the polls.
Khan is languishing in jail after convictions on multiple graft and moral charges days ahead of the polling. He was banned from running and his party is not on the ballot.
“If you want to address the issues of this country, then one party should get the full mandate,” Sharif said as he cast his vote in his native city and political stronghold Lahore.
Sharif promised to tame inflation and stabilize the economy.
“This is my dream and I wish to materialize it,” Sharif said.