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Pakistan Party Chief Rejects Election Results Before They Are Known


Shahbaz Sharif (center), the younger brother of ousted Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, casts his vote in the general elections.

The head of Pakistan's ruling party has rejected the results of the June 25 parliamentary polls before they have been announced, saying the election was rigged.

Shahbaz Sharif, who heads the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party, said the results were being tampered with but did not provide any evidence or elaborate.

"I will reject the election results,” Sharif said.

His statement came came hours after the closing of the polls, although the country's electoral commission was yet to announce even the first results.

The vote was overshadowed by a suicide bombing which killed 31 people outside a polling station in the southwestern city of Quetta.

It is only the second time in Pakistan’s 70-year history that a civilian government has completed a full term and handed over to another civilian administration through the ballot box.

Pakistan's military has ruled for approximately half the period since the country’s independence in 1947, staging coups three times.

The July 25 elections were seen as a close race between opposition leader Imran Khan's Tehrik-e Insaf party (PTI) and jailed former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party. Shahbaz Sharif is the jailed ex-premier's brother.

The leaders of another political party, the Muttahidda Qaumi Movement, also expressed reservations about the results.

Electoral authorities turned down a request by several political groups to extend the voting deadline by one hour beyond the scheduled time of 6 p.m. local time (3 p.m. Prague time). Long queues were reported in major urban centers.

Preliminary results were expected to trickle in by late July 25. A clearer picture of the outcome is expected in the early hours of July 26. Preliminary final results are expected later that day.

Chaos And Carnage After Deadly Blast At Quetta Polling Station
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Polls conducted before the vote showed a tight race, with Khan's party ahead in one survey with 30 percent, compared to 27 percent for PML-N, the outgoing ruling party. Sharif's party leads another poll with 26 percent compared to 25 percent for Khan's PTI.

In third place is the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) of Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, 29, the son of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated in 2007. The PPP could emerge as a coalition kingmaker if no party wins a majority, as many experts expect.

"Our predictions are very murky right now," said Bilal Gilani, executive director of Gallup Pakistan, ahead of the election, adding that a huge chunk of voters remain undecided. "It's still up for grabs," Gilani said on July 24.

Almost 106 million voters were eligible to cast ballots for the 342-member National Assembly, or the lower house of parliament, and assemblies in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab, Sindh, and Balochistan provinces.

Sixty seats in the National Assembly are reserved specifically for women, and 10 for non-Muslim minorities.

Health officials said several people were in critical condition after the Quetta attack, raising concerns the death toll could rise.

A local journalist who was at the scene when the blast struck said the explosion hit outside a polling station that was then closed and has since been reopened.

"Most of the dead and injured" were voters, said journalist Zainuddin, who goes by only one name.

The Islamic State (IS) extremist group claimed responsibility for the attack. The group said the attack was carried out by a suicide bomber, but did not provide further details or evidence for its claim.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has condemned the attack in a statement.

Hours earlier, an exchange of gunfire at a polling station in the Swabi district in northwestern Pakistan left one PTI party activist dead and four people injured. Police said shots were exchanged between PTI and Awami National Party supporters and identified the victim as 30-year-old Shah Zeb.

Earlier this month, IS militants claimed responsibility for a suicide attack that killed 149 people at an election rally in the town of Mastung in Balochistan.

More than 180 people, including three candidates, have been killed in campaign violence since June.

At the request of the Election Commission, the military has deployed more than 370,000 personnel nationwide in and around polling stations -- the largest such deployment in Pakistan's history on an election day. An additional 450,000 police officers have been assigned to provide security.

Khan cast his ballot near his suburban home in the capital, Islamabad, appealing to Pakistanis to come out in large numbers and vote "to save future generations."

Pakistanis To Vote Amid Violence, Corruption Charges
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Meanwhile, Zardari cast his vote in his native town of Larkana in Sindh Province, while PML-N leader Shahbaz Sharif, brother of the jailed former prime minister, voted in the eastern city of Lahore.

Asif Khan, a voter in Lahore, said it was "chaotic" inside the polling station where he cast his ballot but said soldiers and police were maintaining security.

"I'm not casting my vote for a particular party," said Iqbal Hussain, a voter in the Swat Valley in northwestern Pakistan. "Rather I am using my vote for Pakistan. I also want to elect a representative to solve our problems relating to roads, water, and education."

Syed Sardar Ali, a voter in the city of Rawalpindi, said he was voting to "bring some change" to Pakistan.

The most pressing issues for voters are corruption, the military's influence in political affairs, energy shortages, and infrastructure development.

Local television reported sporadic cases of police arresting voters with premarked ballots.

Michael Gahler, head of the European Union's election monitoring mission in Pakistan, said he was looking into reports that media access was restricted by soldiers posted at polling stations.

Gahler will present a preliminary report on July 27 assessing the elections.

Another concern surrounding the vote is the unprecedented number of extremist religious parties that are participating in the election, including some that have been banned but are running under new names.

Local television showed U.S.-designated terrorist Hafiz Saeed, who has a $10 million bounty on his head, casting his ballot in Lahore.

The vote marks only the second time in Pakistan’s 70-year history that a civilian government has completed a full term and handed power over to another civilian administration through the ballot box.

Pakistan's military has ruled for approximately half the period since the country’s independence in 1947, staging coups three times.

The campaign has been characterized by "blatant, aggressive, and unabashed attempts to manipulate" the outcome, with a crackdown on the media and the intimidation of candidates, according to Pakistan's Independent Human Rights Commission.

At the center of most allegations is the powerful military establishment, which has an oversized role in the country's domestic and foreign affairs.

The PML-N has alleged prepoll rigging and accused the army of influencing the judiciary to deny it a second term.

Former premier Sharif was sentenced to 10 years in prison on corruption charges in absentia. He was arrested after returning to Pakistan on July 13 and has appealed his sentence.

Sharif, a vocal critic of the army, was dismissed from office by the Supreme Court in July 2017 for allegedly concealing assets abroad and other corruption allegations. He denies any wrongdoing.

Allies of the three-time prime minister, whose previous term ended when he was toppled in a military coup in 1999, have called the proceedings against him a political vendetta and suggested the army might be behind it.

Sharif has accused the army of paving the way for Khan, which the former cricket star denies.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, and Dawn
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