Polling ends in 21 national and provincial seats in by-elections in Pakistan

     Islamabad/Lahore, Apr 21 (PTI) Polling ended on Sunday for 21 national and provincial seats in the by-elections in Pakistan, which took place amidst tight security and suspension of cellular and internet services in some districts of Punjab and Balochistan to maintain law and order.
     According to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), voting began at 8 am and continued without any break until 5 pm with the provision that voters present within the premises of polling stations would be allowed to cast votes even after the expiry of official timing.
     It will be followed by counting, while results are expected later tonight.
     Despite elaborate security measures taken by authorities to maintain the law and order situation, at least one person was killed and several others injured in clashes during the polling in Punjab province, according to the police.
     "Violent clashes took place in Narowal, Sheikhpura and Rahim Yar Khan in which one person was killed and several injured," the Punjab police said.
     In Narowal, some 120 km from Lahore, a clash took place between the supporters of former prime ministers Imran Khan and Nawaz Sharif outside a polling station.
     Punjab Information Minister Azma Bokhari said the victim was a member of Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) who was killed by workers of Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party.
     In the Sheikhupura and Rahim Yar Khan districts of Punjab, at least five workers of the two rival parties suffered bullet injuries during clashes.
     Similarly in Lahore, the PTI and PML-N workers scuffled on setting up polling camps. Police arrested four persons, including PTI leader Shabbir Gujjar.
     The general elections were held across the country on February 8 to elect representatives for the national assembly and four provincial assemblies.
     Polls were, however, cancelled for one National Assembly seat, two Punjab Assembly seats and one seat of the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Assembly.
     Apart from these, candidates who won more than one seat opted for only one after the elections, leaving the ECP to organise by-elections on 21 seats, including five national and 16 provincial assembly seats.
     A day earlier, the federal government announced that cellular services would remain temporarily suspended in specific districts of Punjab and Balochistan during the by-elections. The suspension request was made by the electoral watchdog.
     In a statement, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) said the decision was taken to safeguard the integrity and security of the electoral process.
     Social media platform X (formerly Twitter) has also been shut down in Pakistan since February 17, after a top bureaucrat accused the Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja and Chief Justice of Pakistan Qazi Faez Isa of being involved in rigging at the behest of the military establishment to install the Shehbaz Sharif government.
     By-elections were held on two seats of the National Assembly each in Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and one seat in Sindh, while polling began on 12 seats of the Punjab Assembly and two each of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan assemblies.
     In Punjab, NA-132 (Kasur) and NA-119 (Lahore) were vacated by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and Chief Minister Maryam Nawaz, while Shehbaz also gave up two of his provincial assembly seats in Lahore.
     The prime minister retained his NA-123 seat in the National Assembly.
     Elaborate security measures were taken by authorities to control the law and order situation with the deployment of regular army troops to maintain peace during the day-long process of by-elections.
     The ECP had asked the federal government to approve the deployment of Pakistan Army and Civil Armed Forces (CAF) troops to keep peace.
     The federal government endorsed the move and announced the use of armed forces units as a quick response force.
     The Ministry of Interior, in its notification issued on Friday, said the CAF and Pakistan Army units would be used as second and third tiers of security, and they would be available with immediate effect till April 22 in all 21 constituencies.
     “The exact number of troops, date/period, area and mode of deployment would be worked out by the ECP in consultation with all concerned stakeholders based on ground requirement/ assessment. The date of de-requisitioning of the said deployment will be decided, subsequently after mutual consultation among all stakeholders,” the notification said.
     Earlier, the Punjab government had also asked the federal government to suspend mobile internet services in the province's 13 districts and tehsils on April 21 to maintain law and order.
     The move comes despite severe criticism by media and political leaders of a similar step on February 8, when mobile services were suspended in various regions to maintain law and order.

(This story has not been edited by THE WEEK and is auto-generated from PTI)