Independent candidates backed by imprisoned former Prime Minister Imran Khan were leading Pakistan’s national election results Friday, a day after sporadic violence, allegations of a preordained outcome and a cellphone service shutdown overshadowed the vote.
Of the 122 National Assembly results announced by the country’s election oversight body after an hourslong delay, candidates backed by Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party have won 49 seats. It’s a surprise given claims by the imprisoned Khan, his supporters and a national rights body of pre-poll rigging and manipulation.
The Pakistan Muslim League party of three-time former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had 39 seats, while the Pakistan People’s Party of political dynasty scion Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari had 30. All results were expected by Friday night.
If no party wins an outright majority, the one with the most seats can try to form a coalition government. Pakistan’s deeply divided political climate, however, is unlikely to produce a coalition pulling together for the betterment of the country, which is grappling with high inflation, year-round energy outages, and militant attacks.
Khan, a former cricketer turned politician with a significant grassroots following, was disqualified from running in Thursday’s election because of criminal convictions he contends were politically motivated. He was imprisoned in the run-up to the election.
His party’s candidates ran as independents after the Supreme Court and Election Commission said they couldn’t use the party symbol — a cricket bat. In Pakistan, parties use symbols to help illiterate voters find them on the ballots. PTI couldn’t hold rallies or open campaign offices, and its online events were blocked, steps it contended were unfair.
The chief election commissioner previously said the results would be communicated to the oversight body by early Friday and released to the public after that. But it started happening only at midday. The Interior Ministry attributed the delay to a “lack of connectivity” resulting from security precautions.
Many Pakistani news channels reported that independent candidates backed by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, or PTI, were giving the other big parties, led by Sharif and Bhutto-Zardari, the son of the assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, a run for their money by striding ahead in dozens of constituencies.
Se. Mushahid Hussain, a member of Sharif’s party, called the media tallies “probably the biggest election upset in Pakistan’s political history” in the last 50 years.
The Election Commission also started announcing election results for the country’s four provincial assemblies. The commission posted results on its website more than 15 hours after polls closed.
Sharif struck a confident and defiant note on polling day, brushing off suggestions his party might not win an outright majority in parliament.
The conditions of the election represented a reversal of fortunes for Sharif and Khan. Sharif returned to Pakistan in October after four years of self-imposed exile abroad to avoid serving prison sentences. Within weeks of his return, his convictions were overturned, leaving him free to seek a fourth term in office.