Pakistanis say vote matters despite alleged election rigging

Pakistanis turning out early for Thursday’s election said they believe their votes count, despite allegations of rigging in the nation’s most fractious poll in recent history.”I believe in democracy and I think my vote matters,” said 22-year-old psychology student Haleema Shafiq, among the first to vote in the capital Islamabad.”I cast my vote as it’s my duty,” she told AFP inside a polling station. “I wish for a deserving party to come to power.”Polls opened at 8:00 am (0300 GMT) for 128 million eligible voters, with the first participants trickling into the Noorpur Shahan girl’s school and inking their fingers before stamping papers in gender-segregated booths.Early voters were outnumbered by around a dozen armed security personnel staffing the station, a day after twin blasts claimed by the Islamic State group killed 28 outside candidate offices in the nation’s southwest.”I want a government that can make Pakistan safe for girls,” said Shafiq.Analysts predict a low turnout after a muted campaign overshadowed by the jailing of ex-prime minister Imran Khan and the hobbling of his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party by the military establishment.”Is this the way an election should be conducted?” asked 40-year-old Imran Khan, a driver who shares his name with the jailed opposition leader.”Everyone has the right to vote according to their own will,” he said. “Today is not the day to stay at home. Those who choose to sit at home today will do injustice to themselves.”Monitors say the treatment of PTI amounts to “pre-poll rigging”, and the party has voiced fears that voters would face interference at polling stations.Reacting to the suspension of mobile phone services, independent candidate Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar said that shutting down mobile networks on polling day “is the beginning of election day rigging”.Taking to his X handle, formerly known as Twitter, the former senator said that cutting candidates off from their agents and staff on election day was unacceptable.By the time news comes out the election would have been stolen, he added.

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