PESHAWAR -- Counting is under way after polling ended in local government elections in a northwestern Pakistani province that were marred by deadly violence and allegations of fraud by the opposition.
Authorities said that at least five people were killed and at least 10 polling stations were set ablaze in separate incidents in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province on December 19 as voters headed to the polls in 17 districts.
Elections to determine the makeup of subdistrict (tehsil) councils, as well as town and village councils in the province’s remaining 18 districts, are to take place on January 16.
The leader of the opposition Pakistan People's Party (PPP), Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, called on the Election Commission of Pakistan to ensure “free and fair elections," accusing the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e Insaf (PTI) of vote “rigging.”
There were no immediate comments from PTI leaders.
As voting was under way in the town of Karak, two people were shot dead when supporters of two rival candidates clashed with each other outside a polling station, a local police official told Radio Mashaal.
Several armed men then raided the polling station and took away ballot boxes, along with ballots and stamps, the official said. The incident took place in Karak’s Takht-e Nusrati area.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity, citing security concerns.
Two people were killed and four others were injured when their vehicle hit a roadside bomb in the Bajaur tribal district, local official said. The victims were representatives of the Awami National Party on their way to a local polling station to monitor the voting process.
In another incident, at least one person was shot dead and two others were wounded when unidentified gunmen opened fire outside a polling station in the Kohat district, a police officer said. The officer spoke on condition of anonymity as he wasn’t authorized to speak to the media.
Police said the Kohat incident wasn’t connected to the election, but it disrupted voting for several hours.
Separately, elders in Kohat’s Samari area barred women from casting their ballots alongside men. The elders in the religiously conservative community accused the authorities of failing to set up separate polling stations for women.
In the town of Darra Adam Khel, dozens of demonstrators set fire to 10 polling stations to condemn the central government’s 2018 decision to merge the Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA) with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province. Darra Adam Khel was part of FATA before the provinces merged.
Protesters also attacked a federal minister’s vehicle, injuring his guard and driver, police said.
Shibli Faraz, the minister for science and technology, was on his way from Kohat to Peshawar when protesters attacked his vehicle and threw stones at it, a police spokesman told Radio Mashaal. Faraz escaped unhurt.
Ahead of the elections, a candidate in the city of Dera Ismail Khan was shot dead in a drive-by attack. The victim, Omar Khitab Sherani, was a member of Pakistan's secular Awami National Party (ANP).
According to the Election Commission of Pakistan, a total of 9,223 polling stations and 28,892 polling booths had been set up for the December 19 elections.
There are a total of 12.7 million registered voters across the 17 districts.