The military deployed 350,000 troops at the 85,000 polling stations. More than 11,000 candidates vied for 270 seats in the National Assembly, and 577 seats in four provincial assemblies.
The attack outside the polling station in Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan province, underscored the difficulties the majority Muslim nation faces on its wobbly journey toward sustained democracy.
Baluchistan also saw the worst violence during campaigning earlier this month, when a suicide bomber struck at a political rally, killing 149 people, including the candidate Siraj Raisani. Another 400 were wounded. IS claimed responsibility for that attack. Baluchistan has been roiled by relentless attacks, both by the province’s secessionists and Sunni militants who have killed hundreds of Shiites there.
Throughout the night, Khan supporters celebrated outside party offices countrywide. Most of the revelers were young men, who danced to the sound of beating drums draped in Tehreek-e-Insaf party black and green-colored flags. Khan, who is a cricket legend of almost mythical proportions, has appealed to the the youth with promises of a new Pakistan. According to the United Nations, 65 percent of Pakistan’s 200 million people are under 30 years old.
Cameras followed Khan into the polling station where he voted on Wednesday. But video images of his smiling image marking his ballot landed him in trouble with the Pakistan Election Commission. Its spokesman Nadeem Qasim told The Associated Press that Khan violated constitutional provisions on “the secrecy of the ballot paper and his vote could be disqualified because he cast his ballot in front of TV cameras.”
Moeed Yusuf, associate vice president of the Asia Center at the Washington-based U.S. Institute of Peace, said the top challenge for the next government will be the economic crisis.
“The new government is going to be in an unenviable position, and especially Imran Khan, as he is not the preferred prime minister for Pakistan’s two traditional chief patrons, China and the U.S,” he said.
Khan has been an outspoken critic of the U.S.-led war in neighboring Afghanistan as well as China’s massive investment in Pakistan, which has racked up millions of dollars in debt to Beijing.
Khan is also likely to be met with trepidation in neighboring Afghanistan, where he has been vocal in his opposition to the U.S.-led invasion that followed the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.