At least 22 people were killed Wednesday in two separate bomb blasts outside poll candidate offices in southwestern Pakistan, officials said, on the eve of an election marred by violence and allegations of poll rigging.
The first attack occurred near the office of an independent candidate in the Pishin district, around 50 kilometres (30 miles) from the city of Quetta and around 100 kilometres from the border with Afghanistan.
Caretaker information minister for Balochistan province Jan Achakzai and Quetta police both put the death toll from that blast at a dozen, with 25 more wounded.
A second blast hit near the election office of a candidate for the Islamist Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-F (JUI-F) party in the city of Killa Saifullah — about 120 kilometres (75 miles) east — according to Achakzai.
“At least 10 people were killed and 12 others injured,” he told AFP.
“The incident took place in the main bazaar of the city area, where the election office of the JUI-F was targeted,” a senior police official told AFP.
In July last year, 44 people were killed by a suicide bomber at a political gathering of the right-wing JUI-F party in northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
More than half a million security officers began deploying Wednesday on the eve of the election, with authorities distributing ballot papers to more than 90,000 polling stations.
The election has been marred by allegations of pre-poll rigging following a crackdown on the party of jailed former prime minister Imran Khan, winner of the 2018 poll, but booted out of power by a national assembly vote of no-confidence four years later.
There have also been multiple security incidents in the run-in to Thursday’s vote, with at least two candidates shot dead and dozens more targeted in attacks across the country.
Campaigning officially ended on Tuesday night and voting is due to begin at 8:00 am local time (0300 GMT) on Thursday, closing at 5:00 pm.
The figures are staggering in a country of 240 million people — the world’s fifth most populous — with around 128 million eligible to vote.
Nearly 18,000 candidates are standing for seats in the national and four provincial assemblies, with 266 seats directly contested in the former – an additional 70 reserved for women and minorities – and 749 places in the regional parliaments.
“We must ensure security measures at every level,” Sindh provincial police chief Rafat Mukhtar told a news briefing Wednesday in the port city of Karachi.