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Pakistanis wait for election results

Pakistan voters queue to cast their ballots at a polling station in Pakistan's general election on Feb. 8, in Wahgrian, Pakistan. The elections have direct implications for Pakistan's global credibility, particularly in strategic and economic relationships.
Rebecca Conway
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Getty Images
Pakistan voters queue to cast their ballots at a polling station in Pakistan's general election on Feb. 8, in Wahgrian, Pakistan. The elections have direct implications for Pakistan's global credibility, particularly in strategic and economic relationships.

Polling stations closed and vote counting is under way in Pakistan, where Thursday's general and provincial elections were marred by an internet blackout and allegations of voting irregularities.

Polls opened at 8 a.m. local time and stayed open in some places until 7 p.m., after authorities granted a two-hour extension,Al Jazeera reported. Across the country, there were more than 90,000 polling stations, guarded by more than 700,000 police officers and soldiers.

A few minutes before the vote began, authorities cut mobile phone and internet services, citing "deteriorating security."

Nearly 130 million Pakistan citizens – almost half of them under 35 years of age – were registered to vote in Thursday's elections. More than 5,000 candidates contested the 266 directly elected seats in the National Assembly.

The elections came after a long period of delay, amid economic woes and continued political polarization.

The popular cricketer turned politician Imran Khan, a former prime minister ousted in a no-confidence vote nearly two years ago, was not on the ballot. He is serving at least 14 years in prison on a variety of charges.

Khan's party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, accused Pakistan's powerful military of excluding him from the candidacy.

Khan's allies ran as independents, with chatbots telling citizens whom to vote for in their districts. They also ran campaign rallies on TikTok and used generative AI to create a Khan-like persona on social media, who urged his base to keep going.

Pakistani election workers sort ballot papers at the start of the vote count in Thursday's general elections, at a polling station in Lahore, Feb. 8.
Rebecca Conway / Getty Images
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Getty Images
Pakistani election workers sort ballot papers at the start of the vote count in Thursday's general elections, at a polling station in Lahore, Feb. 8.

Three-time Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, of the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) party, returned to his country's mainstream politics after four years of self-imposed exile in London.

The Pakistan People's Party, led by Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the son of assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, is also a notable contender in Thursday's elections.

Results are expected in the coming days.

Copyright 2024 NPR

Vincent Ni
Vincent Ni is the Asia Editor at NPR, where he leads a team of Asia-based correspondents whose reporting spans from Afghanistan to Japan, and across all NPR platforms.
Diaa Hadid chiefly covers Pakistan and Afghanistan for NPR News. She is based in NPR's bureau in Islamabad. There, Hadid and her team were awarded a Murrow in 2019 for hard news for their story on why abortion rates in Pakistan are among the highest in the world.