Imran Khan supporters do better than expected in Pakistan elections

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ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Pakistan’s general election took a surprising turn on Friday after candidates affiliated with jailed opposition leader Imran Khan’s party appeared to have fared better than expected, according to official provisional results. for about half the races.

Khan’s rival, three-time prime minister Nawaz Sharif, was widely seen as the clear leader and preferred candidate by Pakistan’s powerful military, which has a history of shaping the country’s politics. But by Friday evening, his party had won only 46 out of 156 races called – compared to about 60 for Khan-aligned candidates.

If Sharif’s party falls short of a majority in Parliament, which has 265 seats up for grabs, it could be forced into difficult coalition talks, which could fuel more political instability in the country with nuclear weapons 240 million people.

What you know about Pakistan’s election, which could trigger more turmoil

It is highly unlikely that Khan’s own party will return to power, despite the races its associates have won so far. All of Khan’s candidates were ordered by a court to run as independents before the election, which now opens the possibility that rival parties will poach some of them in the coming days.

Khan, who was arrested in August last year after a court convicted him of corruption, remains in prison and buried under multiple lawsuits. He did not run in this election, and his party would not have an obvious partner in Parliament, and Sharif will likely have a clearer path to power.

But preliminary results from Thursday’s vote still showed continued support for the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, or PTI, which was politically sidelined by the Pakistani establishment after Khan’s exit from the army. two years ago.

His supporters say Khan’s party has been virtually dismantled over the past year, with many of its leaders arrested and its offices raided. As the number of votes seemed to be slowing down on Thursday night, the remnants of the party’s leadership raised the possibility of electoral fraud.

“We demand that there should be no manipulation of results,” said PTI general secretary Omar Ayub Khan.

There were some initial reports of protests by PTI supporters over allegations of electoral fraud in parts of the country on Friday. The PTI leadership had earlier asked its supporters to gather outside polling stations to demand a fair counting process.

When Khan was arrested on corruption charges early last year, the country saw days of clashes between security forces and his supporters. The Pakistani government later compared these riots to the attack on the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, by supporters of Donald Trump.

Khan’s party has rejected these comparisons, saying most of its supporters protested peacefully. But the PTI has warned that they may not be able to control the anger of their supporters if what they see as an electoral victory is taken away from them.

Pakistani authorities cited security concerns to justify a nationwide shutdown of mobile internet and cell phone connections starting early Thursday, when voting began, but the PTI said the measures were part of an elaborate effort to manipulate the election.

Pakistan’s caretaker interior minister, Gohar Ejaz, defended the closure on Friday, saying it was not an “easy decision” but necessary to stop potential terrorists. have attempted to attack polling stations with remote control devices. Mobile internet services were restored across large parts of Pakistan by Friday morning.

Pakistan’s military, despite the warning, said 12 people were killed in 51 attacks “aimed at disrupting the electoral process” in remote areas of Baluchistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa – a toll that appeared to be lower than some future worst-case scenarios. the election.

Nawaz Khan reported from Peshawar, Pakistan.

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