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Close race as Pakistan goes to polls today.

Summary: In a first ever for Pakistan, 125 people from the transgender community will work as observers on the polling day.

Asma Ali Zain (Reporting from Lahore)

Pakistani election officials receive ballot boxes and voting materials at a distribution centre in Peshawar.-AFP

Fence-sitters will decide the outcome of today's national elections in Pakistan as an opinion survey showed that the electoral race is too close to call.

An opinion survey conducted by the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) and the Herald magazine showed that the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) of former cricketer Imran Khan enjoyed a slim lead of 4 percentage points at the national level over the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PMLN) of the now jailed former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif.

This, however, does not take into account the fact that 13 per cent of the respondents remain undecided. The PMLN, in turn, is leading the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) by five percentage points.

As soon as the political parties ended their campaigns at midnight on Monday, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) stepped in to oversee the security and balloting arrangements. By the close of Tuesday, the ECP was making last-minute checks and familiarising the staff at all polling stations across the country.

A total of 85,307 polling stations have been set up across the country, which would be protected by about 370,000 army personnel, according to ECP spokesperson Nadeem Qasim. Around 17,000 polling stations have been declared sensitive. In Punjab alone, which plays an important role in the formation of a government, there are 47,813 polling stations.

In a first ever for Pakistan, 125 people from the transgender community will work as observers on the polling day.

Meanwhile, the SDPI survey showed a competitive race in Punjab, the main battleground. The PMLN has a province-wide lead of seven percentage points over the PTI, according to the survey What, however, is of concern for the PMLN, and gives hope to the PTI, is that outside central Punjab, the former's five percentage points lead lies within the survey's margin of error of + 2.6 percentage points. This, combined with the fact that this region accounts for 55 per cent of the province's National Assembly seats, makes the contest between the two parties a real cliffhanger.

According to the poll, what is missing in the current debate on elections in Punjab is that the final result will depend on how the undecided voters finally choose to cast their ballot and also how many voters will turn out at the booths.

The survey finds that 14 per cent of the respondents in Punjab remain undecided. It is this group of voters that will clearly determine the final results of the 2018 elections.

This finding is consistent with surveys conducted by Gallup and Pulse Consultants during May 2018 which also showed that undecided voters hold the key in Punjab.

Besides, the MET office has forecast rain which might affect the voter turnout. Temperatures hover around 31 degrees with high humidity levels.

Khaleej Times paid a visit to few polling stations in NA-131, one of the most important constituencies of Lahore from where Imran Khan is contesting against PMLN bigwig Khawaja Saad Rafique, to get an update on the preparedness.

Rakhshanda Yaqoob, assistant presiding officer at the polling station, said that a total of 14 ECP staff, including observers, will be on duty at the station on the voting day.

"Everything has been readied and we are waiting for the ballot boxes," she said.

All staff has been given training on how to handle the voters. Army personnel have also taken up duties a day before the elections.

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Publication:Khaleej Times (Dubai, United Arab Emirates)
Geographic Code:9PAKI
Date:Jul 24, 2018
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