Imran Khan’s party defied the odds in the Pakistani elections with a strong performance

As his supporters surrounded him, Nawaz Sharif took to the stage a day after Pakistan went to the polls in an election that many described as neither free nor fair, with a false victory speech.

“The Pakistan Muslim League is the largest (party) in the country now after these elections,” he said, expressing his readiness to lead a coalition government.

It was not technically a mistake, but it was not a victory for Sharif, who has served as prime minister three times and returned from self-imposed exile to seek a fourth term, after what analysts say was a behind-the-scenes agreement reached with the powerful Pakistani army.

Sharif was widely seen as the military’s “chosen” candidate, while a crackdown on the rival party, former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, left some of its candidates in prison or in hiding, all of whom were forced to run. . Run as freelancers.

Watch the uncertainty prevail in Pakistan as the election results emerge in:

A state of uncertainty in Pakistan with two leaders announcing their victory in the elections

In Pakistan, two leaders declared victory after elections marred by violence, delays, and allegations of voter fraud.

But the matter did not go as planned by the authorities.

With the results of a few constituencies awaited on Saturday, Khan’s PTI-backed independent candidates were firmly in the lead — a stunning result in an election that many viewed as predetermined, and a strong rebuke to the country’s military generals.

A few hours after Sharif spoke, Imran Khan, the former prime minister who was imprisoned and banned from running in the elections, declared a “landslide victory.”

In an AI-generated video message, the jailed politician described the results as “unprecedented resistance.”

Supporters of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party hold a picture of jailed former Prime Minister Imran Khan during a protest outside the Election Commission office in Karachi on February 10, 2024, amid claims that delaying the election result allows authorities to rig it.  Vote counting process.
Khan, who was barred from running and imprisoned on corruption charges that he described as politically motivated, remains very popular in the country. His party defied the authorities’ crackdown and achieved a strong performance in Thursday’s elections. (Ridwan Tabassum/AFP via Getty Images)

The conflicting claims show how stark and complex Pakistan’s election results are.

Although it is still unclear who will form Pakistan’s next government, with no party winning a majority, hectic negotiations are underway. The political wrangling is expected to continue for days, as established parties try to attract independents, who, by law, must either choose to join a party within days or must remain independent.

PTI-backed independents also intend to try to govern through a coalition, according to a senior Khan aide, who has called for peaceful protests if full election results are not published immediately.

‘You shook the elite’

The Pakistani army chief congratulated the country on what Asim Munir described as the “successful conduct” of the elections, and called for unity. Munir said in a statement that Pakistan needs “steady hands and a healing touch” to move forward from the policy of “chaos and polarization.”

It’s a quick reaction after the election, according to Hasan Askari Rizvi, a Lahore-based military analyst who wrote a book on the military’s role in Pakistani politics.

Police guard a returning officer's office as supporters of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf and other parties protest against alleged fraud in Pakistan's national elections.
Police guard a returning officer’s office as supporters of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf and other parties protest against alleged fraud in Pakistan’s national elections. (Banaras Khan/AFP via Getty Images)

He said the question was whether the country’s army, which used to be the ultimate authority in Pakistan, was ready to accept the message sent by voters, who turned out in large numbers to cast their votes for Khan.

“This is a negative vote for the policies that the security establishment has been pursuing,” Rizvi told CBC News. “But it is not clear whether they will acknowledge the facts on the ground.”

“The message is very clear that PTI is a political reality.”

This fact resonated deeply with young voters and other Pakistanis who don’t usually bother going to the polls, said Tahir Malik, a political science professor based in Islamabad.

“During these elections, the people showed their will and now it has shaken the elite,” he said from his home in Islamabad.

A woman casts her vote in Pakistan's Punjab province during the country's general elections on February 8, 2024.
Voters turned out in large numbers to cast their ballots in Pakistan’s general elections, despite concerns about vote tampering. (Saleema Shivji/CBC)

But experts say uncertainty over who will rule the country, coupled with the possibility of a weak coalition government and an army struggling to cope with expected defeat, means more instability ahead.

Malik predicted, “We will enter into another political crisis after the elections,” with questions remaining about the legitimacy of the elections.

Protests multiply due to the delay in results

Allegations of widespread fraud in the elections rose as the country anxiously awaited the announcement of the final results. Generally in Pakistan, preliminary results are announced within a few hours of the polls closing.

In this election, a full 48 hours after voting ended, results from a few precincts were still missing.

Protests broke out in several cities across Pakistan on Saturday over the long delay and whether the results were being manipulated.

The independent candidate backed by Imran Khan's party, Aamir Masood Mughal, said the morning after the vote, in what he described as blatant fraud against his party:
“My results have completely changed,” said Aamir Masood Mughal, a candidate backed by Imran Khan’s party. The morning after the vote, he claimed there was blatant voter fraud. (Saleema Shivji/CBC)

On a tour of central Islamabad on Friday morning, the day after the elections, Aamir Masood Mughal held documents from officials that the candidate said declared his victory the night before, with a majority of about 42,000 votes.

But by Friday morning, that had been canceled and the seat had been declared to his rival.

“When I woke up in the morning, my results completely changed,” Mughal said. “This is open (voting) fraud.”

He added: “Our country will become a banana republic.”

The United States, the United Kingdom, and the European Union expressed concerns about how the electoral process was conducted, and called for an investigation into the alleged irregularities.

A young boy holds a flag supporting the Pakistan Muslim League (PMLN) in Islamabad, Pakistan.
A young supporter of Nawaz Sharif’s party, the Pakistan Muslim League, celebrates as the election results come in. Both Sharif and Khan announced their victory in the Pakistani general elections. (Saleema Shivji/CBC)

But the Pakistani Foreign Ministry responded in a statement that said statements from “certain countries and organizations” were negative in tone and ignored that Pakistan had held elections “peacefully and successfully.”

Nasir Mahmood succeeded in casting his vote on Thursday, under the bright sun at a rural polling station in the Punjab province, although he had strong words for the authorities’ attempts to interfere in the result.

“The real power is democracy,” the 51-year-old said proudly moments after casting his vote. “Although it is not entirely present in Pakistan.”

“The institution should not interfere,” Mahmoud said.

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