Supporters of Imran Khan’s Pakistan-Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and other parties held nationwide protests against alleged rigging during the general elections amid a slow counting of votes and uncertainty over the political scenario in the South Asian country.
Pakistan, a country of 241 million people, voted on February 8 in a general election, as the nation struggles with an economic crisis and terrorism in a deeply polarised political environment.
Despite no clear winner, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) supremo and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif claimed victory and said his party was the “single-largest party”. However, he admitted he did not have the numbers and invited allies to form a coalition government. His bitter rival and former Prime Minister Imran Khan, too, claimed victory and said he was keen on forming a government.
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PTI chairman Gohar Ali Khan, who also acts as Imran Khan’s lawyer, said that “all institutions” in Pakistan should respect the people’s mandate. He stated that Imran Khan, who is in prison, would decide the country’s next Prime Minister.
He also said the PTI would stage peaceful protests outside returning officer’s offices on Sunday if the election results were not released by Saturday night, according to local media reports.
According to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), independent candidates backed by PTI sprung a surprise, winning over 100 seats, well ahead of Sharif’s PML-N, which took 72 seats. The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), headed by Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the son of assassinated Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, won 54 seats, mostly in its stronghold Sindh.
Other smaller parties won a combined 27 seats, the ECP said, and they could play a part in the event of a coalition government being formed.
Despite PTI-backed independents getting the lion’s share, they cannot form a government under Pakistan’s electoral laws. They should join a party and then form a government. Independent candidates are also not eligible to be allocated reserved seats, 70 of which are meant to be distributed according to party strength, news agency Reuters reported.
In his victory speech through AI-generated video and audio message, Imran Khan, who is in jail in multiple cases related to leaking state secrets, corruption and unlawful marriage, claimed victory in the national polls and thanked people for voting for his party in large numbers.
Taking a dig at Sharif, Imran Khan, a former cricketer, said the “London plan” had failed and said the PML-N chief was a “person of low intelligence”.
Amid slow vote count and mounting allegations of rigging, Pakistan President Arif Alvi asserted that his party, PTI, had fought a “long struggle” advocating for electronic voting machines (EVMs).
He said such uncertainty would have been averted if EVMs were used in the February 8 election.
Meanwhile, the PTI, PPP and PML-N have filed petitions in different courts over alleged rigging in their constituencies. The parties have claimed that candidates who were earlier declared winners were later notified as losers.
Pakistan Army Chief Syed Asim Munir praised the “successful conduct” of the election and said the country needed “stable hands” to move on from the politics of “anarchy and polarisation”, news agency PTI reported.
For much of Pakistan’s political history, the military has directly or indirectly played an instrumental role in breaking or making governments. While Imran Khan has claimed a crackdown on his party, the military has rejected the allegation.
The US, the UK and the EU have expressed concerns over rigging and fraud claims in the Pakistan general elections and called for free and fair polls. They said the allegations should be thoroughly investigated while calling for a smooth and democratic process to prevail in the country.