In the run-up to Pakistan’s election this week, the military reasserted control of the electoral process, resulting in one of the most obvious moves to make the election unfair. Popular leader Imran Khan was sentenced to jail, and his party’s ability to compete was curtailed in various ways, including by removing its symbol from the ballot.
Meanwhile, canny survivor Nawaz Sharif, who had been in exile facing criminal charges in Pakistan, suddenly had the charges dropped, likely because he and his party had liaised with the military and shown they were willing to work with the army—the army that Khan had criticized intensely, and gained the support of many Pakistanis because he took on the army directly.
Election day in Pakistan, which usually involves some degree of chaos and, unfortunately, violence, seems to have been even more challenging than normal—and possibly designed to further hinder Khan’s party, even though the military and its allies already had put in place so many roadblocks. The military and its allies may have been concerned that many young voters were registering and seemed to be registering as independents, possibly to vote for Khan’s party.
On election day, the internet was suddenly shut off in Pakistan, and in many places, mobile phone service was suspended. This is not a common occasion on election days in the country, which are normally vibrant, if chaotic, affairs, that include all sorts of campaigning by phone and on the internet.
According to Time, “A statement from the Ministry of Interior posted on X Thursday morning said in Urdu that, in response to “recent incidents of terrorism” in the country, cellular networks had been cut off “to maintain the law and order situation and deal with possible threats.”
By suspending mobile phone service on election day, the government and military probably hurt Khan’s party more than any other, since it relies more heavily on young supporters, who would be more likely to use their phones to canvass for votes and share information about other election-related activities. The same logic holds true for the internet—a shutdown was likely to hurt Khan voters more as well.
As Time further noted, “Global online freedom watchdog NetBlocks said it detected internet blackouts in multiple regions across the country and that the disruptions follow “months of digital censorship targeting the political opposition.”
In addition, violence broke out at several polling sites, and several other locations, including bombings in restive Balochistan—but this violence was not enough to just sever mobile phone service on the day of the year when communication is perhaps most important.
Election results will be posted very late tonight U.S. time, and I will continue covering the election as results come in.