Candidates endorsed by the party of imprisoned Pakistani opposition leader Imran Khan intend to establish a government, a senior aide to the former prime minister said on Saturday, encouraging followers to protest peacefully if final election results are not disclosed.
The nation of 241 million people voted in a general election on Thursday, as the government fights to recover from an economic crisis and combats militant violence in a severely polarized political atmosphere.
Both Khan and his primary competitor, three-time former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, declared victory on Friday, raising questions about who will form the next government at a time when rapid policy action is required to solve many crises.
Gohar Khan, the chairman of Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-Insaf (PTI) party and former prime minister’s lawyer, has urged “all institutions” in Pakistan to follow his party’s mandate.
At a press conference, he stated that if complete election results are not disclosed by Saturday night, the party will organise peaceful protests on Sunday outside government offices around the country.
Protesters Voice Voter Fraud
Hundreds of Khan fans gathered in the northern city of Peshawar, led by two of his aides who said they had been branded losers despite winning the elections.
“We never expected it would happen to us,” Taimur Khan Jhagra, one of Khan’s former provincial ministers told Reuters.
The protesters screamed chants condemning what they called voter fraud.
Sharif announced on Friday that his party had emerged as the single largest group and would negotiate with other factions to establish a coalition government.
By 5 p.m. (1200 GMT) on Saturday, 48 hours after the polls closed, results for 10 of the 265 seats contested in the election remained pending.
According to the most recent figure on the electoral commission’s website, independent candidates won 100 seats, with Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) taking 72.
According to a Reuters investigation, Khan and his party supported at least 90 of the victorious independent candidates, putting them far ahead of Sharif’s party.
The election commission prevented Khan’s supporters from contesting the polls under his party’s electoral symbol for failing to comply with electoral laws, so they ran as independents instead.
Independents Must Join a Party
Despite the prohibition and Khan’s imprisonment for convictions ranging from leaking state secrets to corruption to an illegal marriage, millions of the former cricketer’s supporters voted for him, despite the fact that he cannot serve in any administration while incarcerated.
However, under Pakistan’s electoral laws, independent candidates are ineligible for reserved seats, 70 of which are supposed to be apportioned based on party strength. Sharif’s party could win up to twenty of these seats.
Zulfi Bukhari, Khan’s close friend and media adviser, told Reuters that the party would publish the party banner the next day and invite independents to join. In Pakistan, independent candidates cannot establish a government on their own and must join a party.
“And we have no fear of independents going anywhere, because these are the people who have struggled for the last 18 months and endured all kinds of torture and oppression,” Bukhari told Reuters via WhatsApp voice chat.
Whoever aspires to create the next administration will need the help of other parties, as no one is close to achieving a simple majority in parliament.
Aside from Khan and Sharif, the Pakistan Peoples Party of Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the son of deceased Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, remains a key player, with at least 53 seats.
Small parties and independents gained the remaining seats. This sets the stage for serious political discussions in the coming days before a parliamentary vote to install a new prime minister and administration.
“No one can form a government without us,” said Bhutto Zardari on local Geo TV.
Pakistan’s Military Politics
Pakistan’s army commander commended the country on Saturday for the “successful conduct” of the election, saying the country needs “stable hands” to move away from “anarchy and polarisation” politics.
The military is still the most powerful institution in the country, and it has played a significant role in the formation and dissolution of administrations for decades. Khan accused the military of cracking down on him and his party. The military denies it.
Khan issued an audio-visual message from jail, rather than having his attorneys read a statement, in which he denied Sharif’s claim to victory.
In a statement uploaded on the social media platform X, he urged his fans to enjoy what he described as a victory gained despite a crackdown on his party and allegations of poll tampering to limit the success of PTI-backed candidates.
On Friday, the United States, the United Kingdom, and the European Union all expressed alarm about the electoral process, calling for an investigation into apparent anomalies.
British Foreign Secretary David Cameron expressed “serious concerns” about the fairness and inclusivity of the elections.
Pakistan’s foreign office responded to the statements on Saturday, saying they ignored the “undeniable fact” that the election was held successfully.
“It is our hope that the process will be concluded effectively and that it will reflect the will of the people,” said former Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, who is leading the Commonwealth delegation observing the voting.
Jonathan urged individuals with issues about the election to file them in accordance with Pakistani legislation.