Pakistan faces days of political horse-trading after the latest election results released early Saturday showed no clear majority but a strong performance by independent candidates loyal to jailed former prime minister Imran Khan.
Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party defied a months-long crackdown that paralyzed campaigning and forced its candidates to run as independents with a combined result in Thursday’s election that still challenged its main rivals.
But after long delays in results that sparked fresh accusations that the military establishment had committed electoral fraud, the military-backed Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) declared victory as the party with the largest numbers. of seats.
However, to form a government, the party founded by three-time former prime minister Nawaz Sharif will be forced to close deals with rivals and independents.
There were reports on Friday night of leaders of other parties arriving at the PML-N power base in Lahore for talks.
“We do not have a sufficient majority to run the government ourselves, so we invite the other parties and candidates who have been successful to work with us,” Sharif said at his party headquarters in Lahore.
A slow counting process showed independents had won at least 98 seats, 87 of them loyal to Khan, by early Saturday.
The PML-N had won 69 and the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) had won 51, and the last 20 seats in the elected 266-seat National Assembly have yet to be announced.
Later, more unelected seats will be allocated to religious minorities and female candidates.
Most of the seats won by Khan loyalists were in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where police said at least two PTI supporters were killed on Friday and more than 20 injured while protesting in Shangla district, the first serious post-election violence reported. .
There were also protests against allegedly rigged results in Peshawar, capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and Quetta, in Balochistan province.
“Our results have changed,” said Muhammad Saleem, a 28-year-old shopkeeper, who joined about 2,000 PTI supporters marching in Peshawar.
“The government should count all our votes.”
Sharif’s PML-N was expected to win the most seats, and analysts said its 74-year-old founder had the blessing of the military-led establishment.
Khan was banned from participating in the election after receiving several long prison sentences in the days leading up to the vote.
A nationwide mobile phone blackout on election day and a slow counting of results led to suspicions that the military-led establishment was influencing the process to ensure Sharif’s success.
Candidates running as independents cannot form a government on their own, but can nominate affiliations with elected parties within 72 hours of victory.
This practice frequently leads to compromises in Pakistani politics, which could dilute the PTI’s success.
“The PTI as a party and political group, despite significant efforts by the civil and military establishment, has retained its vote bank,” said Bilal Gilani, executive director of polling group Gallup Pakistan.
“This shows that the military doesn’t always get its way, that’s the positive side,” he told AFP.
The PPP, whose popularity is largely limited to its heartland of Sindh, also performed better than expected, with its leader Bilawal Bhutto Zardari saying the early results were “very encouraging”.
The PML-N and PPP joined forces with smaller parties to remove Khan from office in April 2022, after his PTI won a slim majority in the 2018 elections.
The former international cricketer then waged an unprecedented campaign of defiance against the military-led establishment that originally backed his rise to power.
Khan was convicted last week of treason, corruption and un-Islamic marriage in three separate trials, among nearly 200 cases brought against him since he was overthrown.
UK and US worried about vote
Britain said it noted “serious concerns” about the voting process, while the United States said “allegations of interference or fraud should be fully investigated.”
Acting Interior Minister Gohar Ejaz defended the “difficult decision” to suspend mobile phone services for security reasons.
“We were fully aware that the suspension of mobile services would affect the transmission of election results across Pakistan and delay the process; however, the choice between this delay and the safety of our citizens was quite simple,” he said in a statement. on Friday.
Digital rights activist Usama Khilji said the mobile outage “strengthens the popular perception that the elections are rigged by the deep state.”
Mohammad Zubair, a 19-year-old street vendor in Lahore, said PTI supporters would not accept a PML-N victory.
“Everyone knows how many seats Khan’s independent candidates have won,” he said. “They have no symbol, no captain, no flag, no banners, but we still won on the field.”
Election day was also marked by violence, mainly in the border regions neighboring Afghanistan, with 61 attacks across the country, the Interior Ministry said on Friday.
At least 16 people were killed, including 10 members of the security forces, and 54 were injured.