ISLAMABAD: Millions of Pakistanis are currently voting in an election amid concerns about security as well as connectivity as the caretaker government moved to suspend mobile phone services despite growing calls to restore it.

Authorities announced just before polls opened that they had suspended mobile telephone services across the country “to maintain law and order” following a bloody election campaign – including two blasts on Wednesday that killed 28 people.

Pollsters had predicted a low turnout from the country’s nearly 129 million eligible voters following a lacklustre campaign.

The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) is expected to win the most seats in Thursday’s vote.

Outside a polling station in Islamabad, 22-year-old psychology student Haleema Shafiq said she was determined to vote.

“I believe in democracy. I want a government that can make Pakistan safer for girls,” she told AFP.

But another voter expressed the doubts of many.

“My only fear is whether my vote will be counted for the same party I cast it for. At the same time, for the poor it does not matter who is ruling – we need a government that can control inflation,” said Syed Tassawar, a 39-year-old construction worker.

Polling stations opened at 8:00 am (0300 GMT) and were due to close at 5:00 pm, with voters already inside allowed another hour.

Officials deployed more than 650,000 army, paramilitary and police personnel to provide security for an election already marred by violence.

‘Security measures’

On Wednesday, at least 28 people were killed and more than 30 wounded by two bomb blasts outside the offices of candidates in southwestern Pakistan, in attacks claimed hours later by the Islamic State group.

A spokesman for the interior ministry said “precious lives have been lost” in recent militant attacks in Pakistan and “security measures are essential to maintain law and order situation and to deal with potential threats”.

“It has been decided to temporarily suspend the mobile service across the country,” the spokesman said in a statement.

Web watchdog organisation NetBlocks warned the suspension posed a danger to the integrity of the election.

“The practice is inherently undemocratic and is known to limit the work of independent election observers and cause irregularities in the voting process,” NetBlocks director Alp Toker told AFP.

“The ongoing election day internet blackout in Pakistan is amongst the largest we’ve observed in any country in terms of severity and extent.”

The foreign ministry said the land borders with neighbours Iran and Afghanistan would also be closed to all traffic on Thursday as a security measure.

Nearly 18,000 candidates are standing for seats in the national and four provincial assemblies, with 266 seats directly contested in the former – an additional 70 reserved for women and minorities – and 749 places in the regional parliaments.


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