Curtain falls on electioneering as nation prepares for decisive Feb 8 vote

As the deadline for the political parties to conclude electioneering for the February 8 general polls ended on Tuesday midnight, the election campaigns underway across the country culminated with promises of better education, employment, and economic system for the country.

With just 24 hours left for the political contest to begin, Pakistan will witness one of the most crucial general elections in its history with over 128 million registered voters — half of the country’s population — to decide the fate of the nation for the next five years.

A number of candidates from different political parties and independents lost their lives while leading their election campaigns in terrorist attacks in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and Balochistan as the country saw a spike in incidents of violence, while sporadic clashes between political parties occurred across the nation.

Amid a challenging security situation across the country, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) is determined to ensure the peaceful conduct of polls in the presence of increased security with the Pakistan Army, Law Enforcement Agencies (LEAs), and police on high alert.

As the country heads into the country’s 10th general elections after more than five years, the masses hope for a change in the economy as analysts say the elected government will need to have a collaborative effort from policymakers, businesses, and citizens alike to address economic challenges, and foster growth.

During month-long all-out electoral campaigns — once allies — the two main contenders for the prime minister’s seat, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) supremo Nawaz Sharif and PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari have been trading barbs and criticising each other for their performances.

‘Anticipation of prosperity in two days’ PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif, during a mass gathering in Khudian, Kasoor, on the last day of electioneering, expressed anticipation that the country is going to witness the “dawn of prosperity” after two days in the shape of his party’s ‘success’ in the upcoming elections in the country.

“I can bet that no one would have been unemployed if Nawaz Sharif hadn’t been ousted,” the three-time prime minister said, who was forced out of power in 2017.

He encouraged the youngsters of the country to progress and become the Asian Tigers.

Nawaz then praised the country’s youth for their high spirits, saying that the youngsters can change the fate of the country.

He called on his brother, PML-N President Shehbaz Sharif — who is contesting the polls from Kasur’s Khudian — to promise the people to bring advanced educational institutes, modern infrastructure, and other facilities to the area after winning the elections.

In a veiled jibe at the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), Nawaz said that “they” were busy staging sit-ins while PML-N was busy ending load shedding and terrorism, and providing cheap gas, electricity, and motorways.

Calling on the masses not to let the “frauds” return to power, who had “ruined” the country, Nawaz pledged to bring the country back on track and work for its development.

“Today is the last rally of the election campaign and all of us are at your service,” he concluded.

‘PML-N has no chance of clean sweep’ Concluding his election campaign with a massive rally in Larkana, Bilawal cast doubts on the chances of his rival party, PML-N’s success in the upcoming polls.

“The PML-N is getting a tough time at GT Road. They might win a few seats by there is no chance of a clean sweep,” said the PPP leader, who is contending for the PM’s slot, from the Nawaz-led party’s Lahore stronghold.

He said that the entire Sharif family had been moving around the roads in Lahore but were unable to garner the attention of the people. “People don’t even want to see their faces,” Bilawal slammed the PML-N.

The 35-year-old politician warned against any “tampering” in the election results.

“If my vote was stolen and tampered with, I will chase them in a way they will forget about the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf founder [Imran Khan],” he said.

Bilawal said that he would accept free and fair elections but wouldn’t tolerate an attack on his vote.

Separately, PPP leader Aseefa Bhutto addressed a rally at Bilawal Chowk in Nawabshah, where she said: “During difficult times, only the Bhutto family stood with you. Where were the other politicians?”

“You will receive free treatment, and we will build 3 million houses,” she promised.

She added: “If you want a youth card, stamp the arrow. Promise to make Bilawal the prime minister by stamping the arrow on February 8. If you desire quality education for your children, stamp the arrow. For your welfare, we have implemented the Benazir Income Support Programme.”

Maryam wishes for peaceful, educated Pakistan However, PML-N Chief Organiser Maryam Nawaz, while addressing the Khudian rally, said the opposite as she claimed that the PML-N had surpassed all other parties in popularity.

“Each survey has shattered the false claims of the opposing [parties]. People are come running amok towards Nawaz Sharif,” she said, calling on the masses to take a decision for their “betterment” and “the future generations” with their vote on February 8.

She said that it wasn’t just a vote but a choice for future generations. As the deadline for the parties to canvass for polls ends, Maryam wished for a peaceful, secure, healthy, and educated Pakistan.

While speaking at the same rally, PML-N President Shehbaz Sharif said people of Khadiyan, under Nawaz Sharif’s leadership, “we will transform Kasur district into Lahore and provide everything”.

“You have supported me by making me a candidate for the National Assembly from this constituency. Nawaz Sharif will lead the country out of difficulties by becoming the prime minister for the fourth time. On February 8, you have to vote for the lion and on February 9, a new sun will rise.”

Shehbaz added: “Yesterday, a very kind politician in Sindh said that the PML-N did not hold any rally in Karachi. My response to them is that your performance is enough [for people to decide whom to vote for].

JUI-F, MQM-P and JI also conclude campaigns Meanwhile, addressing a public meeting in DI Khan, JUI-F chief Fazlur Rehman vowed to make the district an industrial zone and business hub. He also promised to work for agricultural development if voted to power in the elections.

Moments before the end of electioneering, MQM-Pakistan Convener Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui said that February 8 was not an election day but an examination.

Urging the people to cast their vote, the MQM-P stalwart said that it was the turn of the masses to exercise their democratic right to vote. He maintained that only his party can steer the country out of crises.

Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) Karachi Emir Hafiz Naeem Ur Rehman urged the masses to vote for “scale” (tarazu) if they wanted respect, education, and progress.

Addressing a public meeting in Orangi Town, Naeem said that the

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