PTI-linked independents take Pakistan election lead as counting nears end | Elections News

Candidates linked to jailed former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s political party are in the lead in Pakistan’s election, ahead of two dynastic parties believed to be favoured by the military, as vote counting enters its final leg.

In an AI-generated “victory speech” posted on the social media platform X on Friday, Khan described the vote as an “unprecedented fightback from the nation” that resulted in Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s (PTI) “landslide victory”, despite what he calls a crackdown on his party.

Khan’s PTI candidates were forced to run as independents after they were barred from using the party symbol – a cricket bat – to help illiterate voters find them on ballots.

Election results started to trickle in nearly 12 hours after polling for national and provincial assemblies ended on Thursday, showing PTI-affiliated candidates taking a narrow lead, followed by Pakistan Muslim League (PMLN) and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) contenders.

Independent candidates, most backed by the PTI, have won 99 seats so far out of 266 total in the National Assembly. The PMLN has won 69, and the PPP 52. Results are still due for about two dozen more seats.

Meanwhile, another former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who heads the PMLN, said he would seek to form a coalition government after his party trailed the independent candidates backed by Khan.

Pakistan’s Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, centre, his brother Shehbaz Sharif, right, and daughter Maryam Nawaz wave to their supporters following initial results of the country’s parliamentary election, in Lahore, Pakistan [KM Chaudary/AP]

Earlier, Sharif had claimed victory in the elections while the votes were still being counted.

But he later backtracked, saying, “We don’t have enough of a majority to form a government without the support of others and we invite allies to join the coalition so we can make joint efforts to pull Pakistan out of its problems.”

Sharif said he would approach the PPP of Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, the son of assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, as a coalition partner.

He also added that he wants to sit together in harmony with other parties to “change” Pakistan.

‘Made history’

In his AI address, Khan decried the PMLN leader as a “petty man”, adding, “No Pakistani will accept him” or his claim of victory.

Speaking to voters, he said, “My fellow Pakistanis, you have made history. I am proud of you, and I give thanks to God for uniting the nation”.

Pakistan’s vote happened just more than a week after Khan, who has been in jail since August, faced back-to-back sentences in several cases he has said were politically motivated.

Last month, the 71-year-old former leader was handed his longest sentence yet: 14 years for corruption in a case related to the selling of state gifts he received as prime minister. A day earlier, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison for leaking state secrets.

With Khan in jail and PTI members facing a crackdown, their election lead came as a surprise to many.

Maya Tudor, associate professor at the Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford, told Al Jazeera that a win for PTI-backed candidates in the elections would be remarkable but the road ahead is rocky.

“A shaky economy, conflict on almost every border, and soaring inflation, which is being felt every day by ordinary Pakistanis,” Tudor said.

‘Political engineering’

Thursday’s elections were marred by violence by armed groups and a widely criticised suspension of mobile phone services also prompted accusations of “political engineering”.

The delay in election results on Friday also raised eyebrows, with PTI spokesperson Raoof Hasan accusing authorities of tampering with the results, saying votes had been “stolen”.

Reporting from the city of Lahore earlier on Friday, Al Jazeera’s Assed Baig said that on the streets, people had been openly saying that votes had been rigged.

“Some of the forms coming out from those polling stations show that there are in fact discrepancies and there is a real fear among people that if their votes are not respected, in terms of reflecting who they voted for, then that frustration could boil over into the streets, like we’ve already seen in some places,” Baig said.

He added that two people have been reportedly killed and 20 injured, because of violence over the election results in northwestern Pakistan.

Meanwhile, The Pashtoonkhuwa Mili Awami Party (PKMAP) announced protests across the Balochistan province against the election results, and party chairman Mehmood Khan Achakzai called the 2024 polls rigged, Al Jazeera’s Saadullah Akhter reported.

Lengthy delays to the start of polling also put people off.

Muhammad Hussain, 67, said polling at a particular station in Karachi’s Malir area did not start until 3pm, seven hours after the scheduled start time.

“We voted for change. But the way it’s going, it doesn’t seem that would be the case,” he told Al Jazeera.

Elsewhere, several countries, including the United States and the United Kingdom, have called for authorities to investigate reported irregularities in Pakistan’s general elections as the final vote count is still under way.

The final tally is due later on Friday night.

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