Candidates backed by jailed former Prime Minister Imran Khan are leading Pakistani elections

Independent candidates backed by jailed former Prime Minister Imran Khan topped Pakistan’s national election results on Friday, a surprise given allegations by Khan’s supporters and the NRC that the poll was rigged in favor of his rival.

Khan, a former cricketer turned politician with a huge following, was disqualified from running in Thursday’s election due to a criminal conviction that he says was politically motivated. His party’s candidates ran as independents after they were banned from using the party’s symbol – a cricket bat – to help illiterate voters find them on ballot papers.

Of the 156 National Assembly results announced by the country’s election supervisory body as of late Friday afternoon, candidates backed by Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party won 62 seats. The Pakistan Muslim League, led by his rival, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, won 46 seats three times.

With results still awaited for another 110 seats and a third major party in the mix, it was too early for any party to declare victory. PTI chief Gohar Khan told Pakistan’s Geo news channel that the party’s tally showed it had won a total of 150 seats, enough to form a government, although 169 seats were needed for a majority.

The result will defy most pre-election expectations

If this result is confirmed by the final vote count, it will defy almost all pre-election expectations. Observers expected the Pakistan Muslim League to prevail and put Sharif on the right track for another term as prime minister due to the obstacles faced by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI).

With Khan in prison and more criminal convictions accumulating, election officials and police have prevented his party from holding rallies and opening campaign offices, and its online events have been banned. PTI said these moves are aimed at preventing them from contesting elections and gaining momentum with voters.

Partial results released on Friday showed that the Pakistan People’s Party led by Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the son of assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, ranked third with 39 seats. All results are expected to be known by Friday evening.

Bhutto Zardari did not respond to requests for comment on her party’s performance.

After several Pakistani news channels reported early Friday that PTI-backed candidates were competing with parties led by Sharif and Bhutto Zardari, Senator Mushahid Hussain, a member of the Pakistan Muslim League, described the media tally as “possibly the biggest election.” disturbed” in the past fifty years for the country.

If no party wins an outright majority, the party with the largest number of seats can attempt to form a coalition government. However, Pakistan’s deeply divided political climate is unlikely to lead to the formation of a coalition to improve a country plagued by high inflation, year-round power outages and militant attacks.

Sporadic acts of violence

Sporadic violence and the shutdown of mobile phone service cast a shadow over the vote on Thursday. The chief electoral commissioner earlier said the results would be sent to the oversight body by early Friday and would then be released to the public. But it only started happening in the middle of the day. The Ministry of Interior attributed the delay to “lack of communication” as a result of security precautions.

The Election Commission also began announcing the results of the country’s four provincial council elections. The committee published the results on its website more than 15 hours after the polls closed.

A line of women, some with their faces covered, creep into a room where two women sit at a desk.  A veiled woman puts a piece of paper in a plastic box.
A woman casts her vote in the country’s parliamentary elections while others wait for their turn at a polling station in Hyderabad, Pakistan, on Thursday. (Pervez Masih/The Associated Press)

Sharif spoke in a confident and defiant tone on polling day, ignoring suggestions that his party might not win an outright majority in parliament.

Sharif and Khan’s circumstances on election day marked a reversal in the fortunes of both men. Sharif returned to Pakistan in October after four years of self-imposed exile abroad to avoid serving a prison sentence. Within weeks of his return, his conviction was overturned, leaving him free to run for a fourth term in office.

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