In spite of the security worries and bitter winter cold, long queues began forming at polling stations hours before voting was due to start. “The country is at stake, why should I come late?” said 86-year-old Mumtaz, a housewife a decade older than Pakistan itself as she queued up in Islamabad.
Besides militant violence, the election is also being held in the midst of a deep economic crisis and in a highly polarised political environment, and many analysts believe no clear winner may emerge.
Unofficial first results in the election are expected a few hours after voting closes at 5pm and a clearer picture is likely to emerge early on Friday.
The move to suspend mobile networks sparked criticism from leaders of opposition parties, with the Pakistan Peoples Party’s Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the 35-year-old son of former premier Benazir Bhutto, calling for its “immediate restoration”.
Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja said the decision on mobile networks was made by “law and order agencies” following Wednesday’s violence and the commission would not interfere in the matter.
Jailed former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, in a post on X, called on people to remove passwords from their personal Wifi accounts “so anyone in the vicinity can have access to internet on this extremely important day”.