Pakistan is facing days of political horse-trading after the last few 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) defied a months-long crackdown that crippled the campaign and forced their candidates to run as independents, with a combined performance in Thursday’s election that still challenged their main rivals.
But after long delays in results that prompted further accusations that the military establishment was guilty of electoral fraud, the military-backed Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) declared victory as the party with the largest number of votes. seats.
However, to form a government, the party, founded by three-time former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, will be forced to make deals with rivals and independents.
There were reports late Friday that leaders of other parties in the PML-N power base arrived in Lahore for talks.
“We do not have enough 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 that independents had won at least 98 seats by early Saturday, 87 of them loyal to Khan.
PML-N had won 69 and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) won 51, while the last 20 seats of the elected 266-seat National Assembly are yet to be announced.
More unelected seats will be allocated to religious minorities and female candidates at a later date.
Most of the seats won by Khan loyalists were in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where police said at least two PTI supporters were killed and more than 20 injured on Friday as they protested in Shangla district – the first serious post-election violence .
There were also protests against allegedly falsified results in Peshawar, the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and Quetta in Balochistan province.
“Our results have changed,” claimed 28-year-old shopkeeper Muhammad Saleem, who joined around 2,000 PTI supporters marching in Peshawar.
“The government must recount all our votes.”
Sharif’s PML-N was expected to win the most seats, with analysts saying the 74-year-old founder had the blessing of the military-led establishment.
Khan was barred from running in the election after receiving several long prison sentences in the days leading up to the vote.
A nationwide power outage on election day and a slow counting of results led to suspicions that the military-led establishment influenced the process to ensure Sharif’s success.
Candidates running as independents cannot form a government on their own, but can declare affiliation with elected parties within 72 hours of victory.
This practice often leads to deal-making in Pakistani politics, which could dilute PTI’s success.
“PTI as a party and political group has retained its vote bank despite significant efforts from the civilian and military establishment,” said Bilal Gilani, executive director of polling firm Gallup Pakistan.
“It shows that the military doesn’t always get its way – that’s the silver lining,” he told AFP.
The PPP, whose popularity is largely confined to the heartland of Sindh, also fared better than expected, with leader Bilawal Bhutto Zardari saying initial results were “very encouraging”.
The PML-N and the PPP joined forces with small parties to unseat 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 resistance against the military-led establishment, which initially supported his takeover.
Khan was convicted last week in three separate trials of treason, bribery and having an un-Islamic marriage – one of nearly 200 cases brought against him since he was ousted.
Britain and the US are concerned about the vote
Britain said it had “serious concerns” about the voting process, while the United States said “allegations of interference or fraud must be fully investigated.”
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 slow down the process, but the choice between this delay and the safety of our citizens was quite simple,” he said on Friday. a statement.
Digital rights activist Usama Khilji said the blackout of mobile services “reinforces the people’s perception that the elections were 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 won,” he said. “They don’t have a symbol, or captain, or flag, or banners, but we still won on the field.”
Election day was also marred by violence, especially in the border regions bordering 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.