Pakistan has temporarily halted mobile calls and data services as millions flock to polling stations to cast their votes in the country’s upcoming government elections. According to a spokesperson from the interior ministry, this precautionary measure was deemed necessary due to recent terrorist activities in the region.
The election marks the end of nearly two years since the former prime minister, Imran Khan, was removed from office via a no-confidence vote. Notably, three-time Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is currently a candidate in what analysts are calling Pakistan’s most controversial election to date. Imran Khan, who was imprisoned on corruption charges last year, is ineligible to run for office.
Both calls and data services have been suspended, though wifi networks still appear to be working.
One voter told the BBC they were shocked at the decision, saying “voters should be facilitated instead of [having to be met with] such hurdles”.
Another said she was expecting a blanket shutdown.
Many voters in the city of Lahore told the BBC that the internet blackout meant it was not possible to book taxis to go and vote, while others said they couldn’t chat to other family members to co-ordinate when to head to polling stations.
Justifying the move, an Interior Ministry spokesman said: “As a result of the recent incidents of terrorism in the country, precious lives have been lost. Security measures are essential to maintain law and order situation and to deal with potential threats.”
Two bomb blasts killed 28 people in Balochistan province on Wednesday.
The shutdown was also criticised by Bilawal Bhutto Zadari, son of murdered ex-Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who called for services to be restored “immediately”. Mr Bhutto, who is also running for the top job, said his Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) had approached the election commission and the courts to get services restored.
The country is on high alert, with a heavy security presence at polling stations across the country. One station in Lahore the BBC visited had armed guards at the entrance and army officers roaming around the area.