Nine people died in a spate of attacks in Pakistan before voting closed on election day, as mobile phone services were also shut down.
Thousands of troops were deployed across the country, while borders with Iran and Afghanistan were temporarily closed in a bid to ensure safety at the polls.
But despite the heightened security, nine people, including two children, were killed in bomb blasts, grenade attacks and shootings.
Pakistan’s election explained: A prisoner, a kingmaker and an unexpected return
Authorities said five police officers were killed in an explosion and shooting in the Kulachi area of Dera Ismail Khan district in the northwest.
Officials said the two children died in a blast outside a women’s polling station in the southwestern province of Balochistan.
Gunmen also killed a security officer in the Tank area of the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa region.
The violence comes a day after two explosions near electoral candidates’ offices in Baluchistan killed at least 26.
Phone service blackout ‘a blunt attack’
In a statement, caretaker interior minister Gohar Ejaz said that “despite a few isolated incidents, the overall situation remained under control, demonstrating the effectiveness of our security measures”.
The interior ministry also said that mobile phone services, which were controversially shut off during voting, were being partially resumed after polls closed at around 5pm (12pm in the UK).
A day after telling Sky News’ Cordelia Lynch that he had “no intention” of shutting them down, caretaker prime minister Anwaar ul Haq Kakar’s government cut mobile phone services across Pakistan on Thursday morning, citing “recent incidents of terrorism”.
Pakistan Peoples Party’s Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the 35-year-old son of assassinated former premier Benazir Bhutto, called for its “immediate restoration”, while human rights group Amnesty International named it “a blunt attack on the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly”.
Results may take days to show clear winner, if at all
A few hours after polling closed in Pakistan, there is no clear winner yet.
But very overt concerns have been raised throughout the day about the internet and mobile phone service shutdown and alleged election irregularities.
Despite this, Imran Khan’s party, now forced to run as independents, have hailed what they describe as a “record turnout”.
Analysts suggest a high turnout will favour supporters of Imran Khan and potentially the PPP led by Bilawal Bhutto Zardari.
But without access to the internet, many people told us they had to work much harder to find the location of their polling stations. Some weren’t willing to stick it out.
In Islamabad we witnessed long lines of people, with many complaining about the “slowness” of the process.
But at the Election Commission, tasked with dealing with complaints, four hours in, they told us they had only had 35 in a country of more than 240 million people – perhaps the tiny number was down to the fact many didn’t have any internet of phone to contact them.
Many people in Pakistan we’ve spoken to in the last few days believe the vote is already decided – that this is a selection not election and that the powerful military will make sure Nawaz Sharif won.
But Pakistan often delivers surprises and you can’t rule one out anything or anyone quite yet. Imran Khan remains the most popular politician and his supporters seem determined to get their voices heard – his ground support cannot be underestimated.
There could well though be days of intense horse trading ahead and a potential messy coalition at a turbulent time in Pakistan. So far, there is no sign of a clear and triumphant victor.
That may take days – if it happens at all.
Military ‘want Sharif as PM’
Tensions have been high in the country ahead of voting, with some claiming the military is pulling the strings in this election – with former prime minister Nawaz Sharif being their favoured candidate.
Anwaar ul Haq Kakar dismissed the claims and told Sky News: “They [the military] have a view on everything, but they are not directly influencing the democratic process and the political process of this country.”
Mr Sharif, who is widely expected to be the next prime minister, told reporters after casting his ballot in Lahore: “Don’t talk about a coalition government.
“It is very important for a government to get a clear majority… It should not be relying on others.”
HOW WILL THE ELECTION WORK?
Some 44 political parties will compete for a share of the 266 seats in the National Assembly, or the lower house of parliament.
An additional 70 seats are reserved for women and minorities.
After the election, the new parliament will choose the country’s next prime minister.
If no party wins an outright majority, then the one with the biggest share of assembly seats can form a coalition government.
With vote counting underway, TV channels are expected to make projections of the first results soon.
Jailed Khan still most popular politician
Tensions are also high after ex-cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, founder of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, was jailed again last week.
The former prime minister, who was ousted in 2022, remains the most popular politician in the country according to polls.
But at the start of February, he was handed multiple prison sentences over a series of charges, with corruption, leaking state secrets, and breaking the country’s marriage laws among them, and was banned from taking part in the vote.
His party has also claimed its candidates have been denied a fair chance at campaigning in the run-up to the vote.