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Vote counting in Pakistan hit by unexpected delays after millions cast their ballot in controversial general election

Islamabad, Pakistan CNN —

Vote counting in Pakistan’s general election has been hit by unexpected delays after millions cast their ballot in an election in which old dynasties vied for power while the country’s widely popular former leader languishes behind bars.

No results had been announced as of early Friday morning, more than 12 hours after polls closed. Pakistan’s Election Commission on Friday said it had given “instructions to ensure immediate declaration of results.”

The much-anticipatedvote, already delayed for months, comes as the country of 220 million faces mounting challenges – from economic uncertainty and frequent militant attacks, to climate catastrophes that are putting its most vulnerable at risk.

Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) candidate for prime minister, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, late Thursday said “initial results are very encouraging.”

“PPP candidates and independents whom we have supported/engaged with seem to be doing well! Let’s see what the final tally is in the end,” he wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

The party of incarcerated former Prime Minister Imran Khan earlier accused authorities of delaying results as an attempt to rig the vote, accusations they have denied.

“This is the second half of counting & the point when manipulation takes place,” Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf said in a statement Thursday, adding it was “clearly leading” in 114 constituencies across the country.

Pakistan’s National Assembly consists of 336 seats, of which, 266 are decided through direct voting on polling day.

The chaos comes after Pakistani authorities suspended mobile internet services for more than 12 hours on the directives of the Interior Ministry. Violence also marred several districts across the