While 127 million registered voters will head to the ballot boxes on Thursday to elect a new parliament, the election has been shrouded in the recent decades-long jail convictions of their former prime minister, Imran Khan.
Despite reported fatalities and violence ensuing around the country and mobile internet suspensions across the nation, the election day has continued to see people go out and vote in large numbers.
Polls opened at 8am local time, and the votes began being counted after 5pm local time.
There are 266 seats to be taken in the National Assembly, or the lower house of parliament, as well as an additional 70 seats that are reserved for women and minorities. After the election, the new parliament will choose a prime minister.
Three main parties that are heading the race to parliament: the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP).
However, PTI have not been allowed to campaign under their cricket bat election symbol (Mr Khan was the captain of the Pakistan cricket team in the 1980s and 1990s) and have been forced to back a number of independent candidates after a crackdown was put on the party and their leader had been jailed.
The PTI has complained that they have been harassed by officials, and their election offices and homes of party leaders and supporters were raided by Punjab police, but authorities have denied such claims.
As voters prepared to cast their votes, mobile phones and internet services were suspended throughout the country, an action that the interior minister said was put in place due to a “deteriorating security situation”.
Calls and data services were suspended, but wifi networks appeared to remain in operation.
35-year-old Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the chairperson of Pakistan People’s Party who is bidding to become Pakistan’s youngest-ever prime minister, called for the immediate restoration of mobile services.
The Human Rights Council of Pakistan also said the decision was “sad and a cause for concern”.
Internet and data restrictions are not the only regulations that were put in place, as Pakistan’s borders shared with Iran and Afghanistan were also temporarily shut, Reuters reported.
Additionally, thousands of troops and paramilitary soldiers were sent to the streets across the country as voting started.
This comes after at least 30 people were killed on Wednesday, the day before votes opened, in explosions near political offices in Balochistan province. At least a further five people were killed in ‘militant attacks’ on Thursday as voting ensued, Reuters said.
Despite the string of attacks on election day, what will also be looming in the back of voters’ minds is the conviction of their former prime minister, Mr Khan.
The election comes two years after Pakistan’s former prime minister and popular leader was ousted in a vote of no confidence and is now residing in jail on corruption charges after he was given multiple sentences, the longest currently being 14 years after being convicted in three different cases within five days last week.
After the conviction and the PTI crackdown, the three-time prime minister Nawaz Sharif of the Pakistan Muslim League is seen by many as the likely top contender in this election.