Independent candidates affiliated with jailed Pakistani political leader Imran Khan's party won more National Assembly seats in Pakistan's general election, a surprise victory in a vote marred by slow turnouts and allegations of fraud.
According to the Election Commission of Pakistan, independent candidates have so far won 98 seats, leaving 22 seats unclaimed. A majority of independents are aligned with Khan's party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI).
The Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PMLN), which is looking to win the election, has so far secured second place with 69 seats. Pakistan People's Party (PPP) is third with 51 seats.
The remaining 22 seats will not be enough for the PMLN or PPP led by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif to win even if they win all of them. Still, none of the country's three largest parties will win the 169 seats needed to secure a majority in parliament, so a separate government cannot be formed, and it is unclear who will be elected as the country's next prime minister. Minister.
In a speech published on Friday, he claimed that an AI-generated version of Khan had won the election and called on his supporters to “show now the strength to defend your votes”.
Khan, who has been behind bars since August, has been using AI to get messages to supporters. “You have saved my faith, your huge turnout has stunned everyone,” the AI voice said in the video.
Khan's opponent, former Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, said his party, the PMLN, had emerged with the biggest contribution. He admitted his party does not have a “majority to form a government” and is looking for coalition partners.
Sharif is believed to have once seen one of his terms end in a military coup by researchers To be favored by the country's military establishment. The army has previously denied backing Sharif.
Speaking on Saturday, Pakistan's army chief, General Syed Asim Munir, said the nation “needs a steady hand and a healing touch to move forward from the politics of anarchy and polarization that are unbecoming of a progressive country of 250 million people.”
“Pakistan's diverse polity and pluralism will be well represented by a unified government of all democratic forces imbibed with national purpose,” Munir added.
Violent protests erupted on Friday over allegations of vote rigging and slow vote counting, amid warnings from Pakistan's Human Rights Commission that the “lack of transparency” surrounding delays in announcing election results was “deeply concerning”.
At least two people were killed and 24 injured in Shangla, Pakistan's northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, during clashes between workers of Khan's political party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and police officers.
A police officer in Shangla told CNN that two protesters died after being hit by stones thrown at police by their group. However, Syed Fareen, a local candidate from the PTI, told CNN that two workers were killed and at least 24 injured when the police opened fire on the protesters during their peaceful demonstration.
Researchers reason Widespread anger to efforts by the country's caretaker government and its powerful military, long the dominant force in Pakistani politics, to crack down on Khan and his supporters, including “pre-election shake-ups”.
Khan accused the military of plotting to remove him from office in 2022, after the episode saw thousands of his supporters defy the military and take to the streets. Both the military and Pakistan's caretaker government have denied cracking down on Khan or the PTI.
“This election is, among other things, a referendum on the dominant role of the military in Pakistani politics,” Michael Kugelman, director of the South Asia Institute at the Wilson Center, told CNN. “PTI voters came out in droves to send a message of protest that they will not allow the military to dictate the outcome of an election they so badly wanted to defeat.”
Khan-backed candidate Mehr Bano Qureshi, whose father is jailed former foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, told CNN he was leading by a significant margin until the Election Commission “frozen” the results overnight and refused to allow the returning officer to come to the office.
Later on Friday he was declared defeated in the Punjab constituency of Multan by a “historic” number of rejected votes, which “in my opinion, clearly indicates malpractice”.
Foreign governments have expressed concern about interference in Pakistani elections. On Friday, the US called for an investigation into “allegations of interference or fraud” surrounding the vote, with a State Department spokesman agreeing with assessments that the elections “involved undue restrictions on freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly”.
But Pakistan's foreign ministry hit back on Saturday, saying criticism from abroad “ignores the indisputable fact that Pakistan conducted peaceful and successful general elections”.
It added that these comments “do not take into account the complexity of the electoral process, nor acknowledge the free and enthusiastic exercise of the right to vote by tens of thousands of Pakistanis”.
Thursday's vote, already delayed for months, comes as the country of 220 million faces mounting challenges – from Economic uncertainty And Frequent terrorist attacks It is at its most vulnerable to climate disasters.
Banaras Khan/AFP/Getty Images
Polling station workers open ballot boxes in the presence of polling agents from various political parties as the counting of votes begins in Quetta, Pakistan, on February 8, 2024.
Former cricket star Con71, who was ousted from power in a storm of controversy He was jailed for several sentences and was barred from voting against his rivals. The PTI has been banned from using its famous cricket bat symbol on ballot papers, potentially using it to woo millions of illiterate people, and TV channels have been barred from telecasting Khan's speeches.
His longtime adversary, Sharif, 74, the heir to the elite Sharif political dynasty, is seeking to make a remarkable political comeback following years of exile abroad. Sentenced to prison for corruption.
Even if the PTI comes out on top after the counting of votes, it will be challenging to hold power in the new government.
Ahead of the elections, court rulings forced the party's candidates to contest as independents. “This means PTI has to worry that some of its sponsored candidates may join hands with other parties. And the military will pressure them to do so,” Kugelman said.
Sharif's PMLN could form alliances with other parties and shut down PTI, Kugelman added.
If Sharif's party forms a new government, he will be sworn in for a historic fourth term as prime minister. He took a conciliatory tone on Friday, saying “all parties should sit together to heal wounded Pakistan”.
He said his party respects the mandate of all parties “including independents”, referring to the candidates from jailed former prime minister Khan's party who could not contest on the party's name.
Sharif insisted his party “does not want to fight” as “Pakistan cannot afford conflict”. He also said his party “wants to improve relations” with Pakistan's neighbours.
Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the 35-year-old son of slain former leader Benazir Bhutto, is hoping to re-establish his Pakistan People's Party as a major political force.
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