Nawaz Sharif said his party will seek talks with rival group Bilawal Bhutto Zardari to form a coalition in Pakistan, potentially breaking the deadlock as a contentious election in the South Asian country heads toward a hung parliament.
Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz will talk to Bhutto Zardari’s Pakistan People’s Party, veteran politician Sharif told his enthusiastic supporters in a speech in which he claimed victory.
Bhutto Zardari, 35, is a descendant of the Bhutto dynasty, while Sharif is a three-time former prime minister who returned from exile in London last year and was acquitted of corruption charges, paving the way for him to take part in the elections.
If the two family parties join forces, they could thwart the jailing of former Prime Minister Imran Khan, whose candidates, who were forced to run as independents, did well in Thursday’s election, demonstrating Khan’s enduring popularity and making the polls are a tight race.
“We have to sit together,” Sharif said in a speech at his family stronghold in Lahore. “It is everyone’s duty to get this country out of this quagmire.”
After the elections, the PML-N is the largest party in parliament, Sharif said. His close aide previously said the PML-N will win nearly 90 of the 265 seats up for grabs in the National Assembly, Pakistan’s lower house. The Election Commission of Pakistan’s scorecard showed Khan-backed independents leading with 90 seats, followed by the PML-N with 62 and the PPP with 50.
“We will talk to everyone,” Sherry Rehman, a senator and PPP leader, told reporters in Lahore.
A two-party alliance may come as a relief to the nation’s powerful military, which analysts say was instrumental in ousting Khan from power in April 2022. Khan responded by holding rallies in which he openly criticized the military. He was later sent to prison on multiple charges and candidates from his party were not allowed to participate in the elections under the banner Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, or PTI. They were also banned from using the party’s famous cricket bat symbol in the polls.
It would also be likely to anger Khan’s millions of young supporters, who support the former cricket star’s populist, anti-establishment rhetoric and see the Sharifs and Bhuttos as representatives of the old ways of Pakistani politics.
The strong performance of Khan-backed independents created uncertainty about the country’s future, leading to a sell-off of its assets. Dollar bonds fell, with the bond maturing in 2051 falling the most in seven months. The benchmark stock index fell 2%, the biggest drop in two months.
If Sharif becomes prime minister, he will face challenges on multiple fronts. The country’s economy is in tatters, with inflation at 28%, the highest rate in Asia, which is making life even more difficult for the 40% of the population living in poverty.
Pakistan is also heavily indebted and dependent on financial assistance from the International Monetary Fund. A nine-month bailout program, Pakistan’s 23rd since independence in 1947, is set to expire next month, meaning one of the new prime minister’s first tasks could be to negotiate a new deal.
The new leader will also have to navigate complex ties with the United States and China, growing terrorism in Pakistan and strained relations with neighbors such as India, Afghanistan and Iran.
While Sharif claims victory, the outcome of the elections remains uncertain and it may take weeks to form a government.
“Any controversy surrounding the election results will lead to political instability and, in turn, may make it very difficult for the next government to negotiate and implement the next IMF program,” said Abid Qaiyum Suleri, executive director of the Institute of Sustainable Development Policies, an independent research institution. tank based in Islamabad.
The election was marred by terrorist attacks in remote provinces bordering Afghanistan that killed dozens of people. On election day, Pakistan suspended mobile phone services across the country, saying it was necessary to maintain law and order. Then the announcement of the results was delayed by more than 24 hours. In a statement on Friday morning, the Home Office said a “lack of communication” due to precautionary security measures was behind the delays.
The US State Department said the election included “undue restrictions on the freedoms of expression, association, and peaceful assembly.”
“Allegations of interference or fraud must be thoroughly investigated,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said in a statement.
Sharif’s party was not the only one to claim victory. Khan’s PTI also did so in the early hours of Friday morning, as he warned his supporters that electoral fraud was taking place.
Khan, who was jailed last year and has since been sentenced in numerous other cases, which he says are politically motivated, is Pakistan’s most popular politician, a former cricket star who captained Pakistan to World Cup victory. World of 1992. He has a loyal following among the country’s young population.
“Investors would be vigilant if protests broke out,” said Adnan Khan, head of international sales at Intermarket Securities Ltd. “The next few days are very important.”
Analysts considered Sharif to be backed by the country’s powerful military and a political figure who could replace Khan. He is Pakistan’s longest-serving prime minister, with a total of nine years in office, but he has never once completed a full five-year term.
Sharif was ousted three times as prime minister, twice in the 1990s and once in 2017, following a corruption investigation following a leak of the Panama Papers. In 1999, the military staged a coup after he attempted to remove General Pervez Musharraf as army chief.
Pakistan’s military has ruled the nation for almost half of its history and is often the power behind civil administrations. He retains enormous influence over the country’s politics.