PTI-affiliated independents take electoral lead in Pakistan as counting closes | Elections News

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Candidates linked to jailed former prime minister Imran Khan’s political party are leading in Pakistan’s election, ahead of two dynastic parties believed to be favored by the military, as counting votes entering their final phase.

In an AI-generated “victory speech” posted on social media platform X on Friday, Khan described the vote as an “unprecedented fight from the country” that resulted in a “landslide victory” for the Pakistan Tehreek- e-Insaf (PTI) notwithstanding. 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’s symbol – a cricket bat – to help illiterate voters find them on ballots.

Election results started trickling in nearly 12 hours after voting for national and regional assemblies ended on Thursday, showing PTI-linked candidates taking a narrow lead, followed by rivals Pakistan Muslim League (PMLN) and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP).

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

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

Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, center, his brother Shehbaz Sharif, right, and daughter Maryam Nawaz wave to their supporters after the 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 do not have enough of a majority to form a government without the support of others and we invite friends to join the coalition until the we can make joint efforts to pull Pakistan out of its problems. “

Sharif said he would go to Bilwal Bhutto-Zardari’s PPP, the son of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, as a coalition partner.

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

‘Make history’

In his AI speech, Khan dismissed the PMLN leader as a “little man”, saying, “Pakistan will not accept him” or his bid for victory.

Addressing the voters, he said, “My fellow Pakistanis, you have made history. I am proud of you, and I thank God for uniting the country.”

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

Last month, the 71-year-old former leader received his longest sentence yet: 14 years for corruption in a case related to the sale 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 crackdown, their electoral lead surprised many.

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

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

‘political engineering’

Thursday’s elections were marred by violence by armed groups and a widespread ban on mobile phone services prompted accusations of “political engineering”.

The delay in Friday’s election results also raised eyebrows, with PTI spokesman Raoof Hasan accusing authorities of tampering with the results, saying the votes were “stolen”.

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

“Some of the forms that come out of these polling stations show that there are real differences and that there is real fear among people, if their votes are not respected, in terms of revealing who they voted for, that frustration could boil over. on the streets, as we have already seen in some places,” said Baig.

He also said that two people were killed and 20 injured, due to violence over the election results in northwest Pakistan.

Meanwhile, the Pashtoonkhuwa Mili Awami Party (PKMAP) announced protests across the Balochistan region against the election results, and party president Mehmood Khan Achakzai announced the 2024 polls, Saadullah Akhter said at Al Jazeera.

A long delay before the start of voting also put people off.

Muhammad Hussain, 67, said voting at a special 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 look like that would be the case,” he told Al Jazeera.

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

The final position is expected later Friday night.

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