Islamabad: Polling was on Saturday underway in Pakistan's four provincial and national assemblies to elect 52 members of Senate - the upper house of parliament, according to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP).
Provincial and federal lawmakers are voting in the polling that started at 9 am and would continue till 4 pm without any break, the ECP said.
Strict security measures have been taken and paramilitary Rangers and Frontier Corps personnel and police have been deployed outside buildings of parliament house and the four provincial assemblies, which have been declared as the polling stations.
The ECP also barred cellphones or any other electronic devices in the assemblies so that the privacy of the polling is maintained.
The Senate has 104 members elected for six years but half of them retire every three years on completion of term.
New Senators are elected indirectly by provincial and national assemblies through proportional representation.
The 52 Senators retiring this month were elected in 2012. The other 52 were elected in 2015 and will serve until 2021.
The ECP has taken several decisions to ensure vote privacy during the elections. It said officers will ensure that no voter exposes his vote's privacy and neither be allowed to take issued ballot paper outside the polling station.
In case of non-compliance the controlling officer will cancel the ballot paper of such persons.
It was also decided that all controlling officers will have powers of full magistrate and they can suspend the electoral process by bringing such elements to ECP's notice in case of irregularity.
Officials said that 46 senators will be elected by the four provincial assemblies, 2 by the National Assembly, and 4 by lawmakers from tribal areas.
Total 135 candidates are contesting, including 20 from Pakistan People Party (PPP), 14 from Mutahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), 13 from Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and four from Pak Sarzameen Party.
There are 65 candidates who are independent and they also include 23 from ruling Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N). They cannot use PML-N name and platform due to a recent decision by Supreme Court. However, they are supported by PML-N and will formally join it after the elections.
PML-N is likely to emerge the majority party in Senate after the elections. It will help it control legislation as previously PPP was in majority in Senate and the ruling party needed its support for lawmaking.
There are reports and allegations of massive use of money and influence ahead of elections because Senators are elected by provincial and federal lawmakers and due to proportional representation, even a single vote can make a huge difference.
In Balochistan, a candidate needs just nine votes to become a senator while in the biggest province of Punjab, 47 votes are needed to elect a senator.
But the trickiest situation is in Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) where 10 members of the National Assembly would elect four senators. A candidate in FATA having support of just three lawmakers can surely land in the upper house of Pakistan.
Almost all political parties have expressed dismay at the elections laws of Senate and promised to improve them.
"There is a broad consensus that system of election for Senate is flawed and we need to improve it," Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi had said ahead of polls.
Imran Khan of PTI said that his party would work to introduce direct elections for senators to root out corruption and use of money.