Allies of Ex-Pakistani PM Khan Lead in Final Election Count

Islamabad — Pakistan’s much-awaited election vote count concluded Sunday, with jailed former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s allies winning the most National Assembly seats but not enough to form a simple majority.  


The Election Commission website showed a group of independent candidates, almost all nominated by Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, or PTI, claiming 101 seats in the 266-member legislative lower house of parliament. 


They were followed by the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, or PML-N, led by another former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif. It won 75 seats and became the largest single parliamentary party, because PTI-backed independent candidates ran as individuals.  

The Pakistan People’s Party of former Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari was third with 54 seats, while smaller regional parties trailed. 

 The commission released the final tally nearly three days after the conclusion of Thursday’s daylong polling across the nation of 241 million, with Pakistan suspending mobile phone and internet services nationwide, citing security concerns.  


The unusually long delay, coupled with the communication blackout, raised questions about the vote’s credibility, giving credence to widespread allegations that the results were manipulated to favor military-backed parties over PTI.  


Khan’s candidates ran as independents because the election commission, just weeks before the polls, had barred them from running under his party’s iconic cricket bat electoral symbol for not complying with election laws, a decision widely criticized as unconstitutional and politically motivated. 


The final vote count indicates that no single party has enough seats to form a government independently, dampening hopes the election outcome would help end a political turmoil that has gripped nuclear-armed Pakistan since an opposition parliamentary vote of no-confidence ousted Khan from power in 2022.  


The 71-year-old cricket hero-turned-politician could not run in the election after being sentenced to 14 years in prison and banned from holding public office leading up to Thursday’s vote. 


PTI-backed candidates’ shocking success came despite a monthslong military-backed crackdown on the party leadership and supporters before the elections. They were prohibited from holding campaign rallies and hundreds of them were arrested, with many nominees forced to run while in hiding.  


The Election Commission blamed the delay in processing the results on “communication issues.” 


Pakistan’s military-backed interim government has defended its decision to suspend communication networks on election day, saying it was meant to protect the process in the wake of a deadly spike in militant attacks on the eve of and during the polls. 


Sharif has said that his PML-N is holding talks with other parties to form a coalition government in Islamabad. Khan’s party has also declared victory, saying it was well-placed to form a government and urging “all institutions” in Pakistan to respect its mandate.  


Thousands of Khan supporters have staged protest rallies outside election offices returning results in major cities, saying their candidates were declared losers despite having won the polls and demanding legal action against those responsible for what they called vote fraud. Police in the eastern city of Lahore rounded up several PTI supporters in a crackdown on Sunday.  


Meanwhile, Pakistani courts have been flooded with PTI-led petitions challenging the election results, prompting the high in Lahore to block the election commission from declaring winners in more than two dozen constituencies. 


The communication outage on Thursday drew concern from foreign governments, including the United States, and rights groups. 


More than two dozen U.S. members of Congress have posted concerns about Pakistan’s election irregularities and manipulation on social media platforms.  


Michael McCaul, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said free and fair elections were a “fundamental cornerstone” of any democracy and must be protected.  


“Any allegations of corruption or fraud must be fully investigated, and those responsible must be held accountable. The United States supports the right of the Pakistani people to a democratically elected government that respects the rule of law and human rights.” 


On Friday, the U.S. State Department spokesperson condemned the restrictions on access to the internet and telecommunication services, stressing the need for timely completion of results that reflected the will of the Pakistanis. 


“We join credible international and local election observers in their assessment that these elections included undue restrictions on freedoms of expression, association, and peaceful assembly,” Mathew Miller said.   

Khan used an artificial intelligence-generated speech on Friday to claim that his party had been deprived of a landslide victory by manipulating the results, assertions backed by many independent commentators and critics. 


“From the pre-poll phase to election day irregularities to the post-poll counting process — the attempts to subvert the PTI were blatantly executed,” read a Saturday editorial in the prestigious English-language Dawn newspaper. “It seems the only thing the state was able to achieve through its persistent victimization of the PTI was to turn it into a symbol of resistance for the people,” the paper added. 

Pakistan has pushed back against the foreign criticism and “the negative tone” of some statements, dismissing them as incorrect.    


“While we value constructive advice from our friends, making negative commentary even before the completion of [the] electoral process is neither constructive nor objective,” a foreign ministry statement said on Saturday. 

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