Islamabad: Jailed ex-PM
and his arch-rival, former three-time PM
, vowed Saturday to form next govt in Pakistan, making conflicting claims of victory as no political party secured a clear majority in general elections held on Feb 8 in a highly polarised political environment.
Candidates backed by Imran’s Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) clinched 100 seats out of 266 directly elected to National Assembly, surpassing 72 seats secured by Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N).
Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), led by former foreign minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, emerged as third biggest with 54 seats.
Khan claimed his party swept with a two-thirds majority, but alleged massive rigging had stolen their mandate through changed results. He addressed his supporters in an AI-generated video message. “I congratulate each and every one of you for winning 2024 election… you have made history,” he said, while urging supporters to peacefully protest if final election results are not released.
PML-N asserted victory on technical grounds, citing PTI’s disqualification from participating in elections for not complying with electoral laws. All PTI candidates contested as independents.
Khan’s close aide and media adviser Zulfi Bukhari told Reuters they would announce within Sunday a party banner for independents to join. In Pakistan, independent candidates cannot form a govt on their own and need to join a party.
Independent candidates are also not eligible to be allocated reserved seats, 70 of which are meant to be distributed according to party strength. Sharif’s party could get up to 20 of these seats.
Sharif initiated post-election campaigns by reaching out to PPP and smaller groups for a unity govt. However, it remains uncertain pending court rulings on alleged vote manipulation. Many PTI candidates have approached electoral watchdog and high courts in Lahore and Islamabad in a bid to reclaim victory.
Army chief Gen Asim Munir – widely regarded as backing Sharif’s party – urged unity amidst political turmoil, calling for stable governance to unite “Pakistan’s diverse polity”.
“Elections are not a zero-sum competition of winning and losing but an exercise to determine the mandate of the people. Political leadership and their workers should rise above self-interests… Elections and democracy are means to serve people of Pakistan and not ends in themselves,” he said in a statement released Saturday.
International community, including US, UK, and European Union, have demanded an investigation into claims of election malpractices made by Khan’s party. British foreign minister David Cameron’s statement noted “serious concerns raised about fairness and lack of inclusivity of the elections”.
Pakistan’s foreign office said these statements ignore an undeniable fact that Pakistan held general elections, peacefully and successfully, while dealing with serious security threats.
Amid widespread circulation of videos of alleged poll rigging on X, authorities suspended the service again Saturday. “After closing mobile services in Pakistan during election day, they have now blocked X in Pakistan because PTI was exposing the rigging!!” Khan’s party alleged.
Pakistani voters had not cast ballots only for National Assembly, but also for their representatives in four provincial assemblies. In Punjab, most populous province of Pakistan, PML-N is in lead, while independent candidates are comfortably ahead in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. In Sindh province, PPP has won a majority, while in Balochistan, country’s largest province in terms of land, a coalition govt is expected as no party has seats required for a simple majority.