At least 28 people were killed on Wednesday in two separate locations in southwestern Pakistan in two attacks claimed by the Islamic State (IS) group near the offices of candidates for Thursday's parliamentary and provincial elections.
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IS claimed responsibility for the two attacks on the Telegram app on Wednesday evening, which were carried out with motorcycle bombs.
Through the spokesman for its Secretary General, the United Nations condemned these two attacks “in the strongest possible terms.” “The Secretary-General wishes to emphasize the right of Pakistanis to participate in elections without being subjected to fear, intimidation and violence,” said Stéphane Dujarric.
More than half a million members of the security forces were deployed during the vote.
There was a sharp increase in violence in the days leading up to the vote. At least two candidates were shot and dozens more attacked during the campaign.
“The aim of today's (Wednesday) explosions was to sabotage the election,” said Jan Achakzai, the information minister of Balochistan province, where the two attacks took place.
Despite these attacks, “the election will be held tomorrow (Thursday). People of Balochistan will vote tomorrow without fear,” he said.
According to Mr. Achakzai and local police, an initial IED explosion killed 16 people near the office of an independent candidate for the provincial election in Pishin district, about 50 km north of Quetta, the capital of Balochistan.
A second explosive device exploded near the election office of the local candidate of the conservative religious party JUI-F (Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-F) in the main market of the city of Killa Saifullah, about 150 km northeast of Quetta, leaving at least 12 dead, it said Mr. Achakzai.
A total of 34 people were injured in the two attacks.
Balochistan, a hydrocarbon and mineral-rich province on the border with Afghanistan and Iran, has long been the scene of separatist violence, but IS is also established there.
Fallen from grace
The credibility of the elections in the Islamic republic of 240 million people was questioned in advance by the imprisonment of popular former Prime Minister Imran Khan and the repression against his party.
The election campaign officially ended at midnight on Tuesday and polling stations are scheduled to open at 8:00 a.m. local time (03:00 GMT) and close at 5:00 p.m. on Thursday.
In Lahore, the capital of the east-central Punjab province, returnees accompanied by police began bringing green bags full of ballot papers to polling stations on Wednesday.
“The organization in terms of security is much better because the ECP (Election Commission, editor's note) has installed its application and taken other measures,” said Mohammad Baqir, head of the election office, referring to the electronic surveillance of those collect the ballot papers.
Around 128 million voters are called to vote in the world's fifth most populous country.
Nearly 18,000 candidates are running in the elections for seats in the National Assembly or provincial assemblies.
The National Assembly has 336 deputies, of which 266 are elected by individual voting and 70 others by proportional representation (60 seats are reserved for women and 10 seats for religious minorities: Christians, Hindus, etc.).
After falling out of favor with the army, which nevertheless supported him in 2018, Imran Khan was sentenced to three long prison terms for corruption, treason and illegal marriage.
And his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, unable to campaign on the ground and in the media, found refuge on social media.
This seems to open the door for Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N), which could become prime minister again for the fourth time at the age of 74.
“It's a… carnival atmosphere. There are elections the day after tomorrow, but we are already celebrating,” he said on Tuesday at his last meeting in front of 15,000 people in Kasur near Lahore.
Nawaz Sharif returned to Pakistan in October after four years in exile in London. Analysts believe he has reached an agreement with the army, which he had previously criticized for excluding him from previous elections.
Since his return, he has benefited from the overturning of several previous corruption convictions.
Political chaos, coupled with deteriorating security and a severe economic crisis, are leaving Pakistanis “more discouraged than they have been in decades,” Gallup noted Tuesday.
According to this pollster, “seven out of 10 Pakistanis have no confidence in the integrity of the elections,” “a significant step down from recent years.”