By Riazat Butt, The Associated Press on February 9, 2024.
LAHORE, Pakistan (AP) – Independent candidates backed by imprisoned ex-Prime Minister Imran Khan are leading national election results in Pakistan on Friday. The country’s election oversight body has announced over 120 results after an hourslong delay, a day after the vote that was marred by sporadic violence and a cellphone service shutdown.
Of the 122 results announced by the Election Commission for the National Assembly, or lower house of parliament, candidates backed by Khan’s party were ahead with 49 seats.
The Pakistan Muslim League party of three-time Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had 39 seats, while the Pakistan People’s Party had 30. More results are coming in, with all expected by Friday night.
If no party wins an outright majority, the one with the biggest share of the seats can form a coalition government.
Earlier, local media also reported victories by independents backed by Khan’s party after the imprisoned former cricketer was disqualified from contesting the vote because of criminal convictions he contends were politically motivated.
PTI candidates ran as independents after the Supreme Court and Election Commission said they couldn’t use the party symbol – a cricket bat. In Pakistan, parties use symbols to help illiterate voters find them on the ballots. PTI couldn’t hold rallies or open campaign offices, and its online events were blocked, steps it contended were unfair.
The chief election commissioner previously said the results would be communicated to the oversight body by the early hours of Friday and released to the public after that. But it started happening only from midday Friday. The Interior Ministry attributed the delay to a “lack of connectivity” resulting from security precautions.
Many Pakistani news channels reported that PTI-backed independents were giving the other big parties, led by Sharif and political dynasty scion Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, a run for their money by striding ahead in dozens of constituencies.
Senator Mushahid Hussain, a member of Sharif’s party, called the media tallies “probably the biggest election upset in Pakistan’s political history” in the last 50 years. Withheld results were a recipe for disaster, he said on X, formerly known as Twitter.
The Election Commission also started announcing the results of the four provincial assemblies in the country. The commission was posting results on its website more than 15 hours after polls closed.
Sharif struck a confident and defiant note on polling day, brushing off suggestions his Pakistan Muslim League party might not win an outright majority in the parliament.
He returned to the country last October after four years of self-imposed exile abroad to avoid serving prison sentences. Within weeks of his return, his convictions were overturned, leaving him free to seek a fourth term in office.
Associated Press writer Munir Ahmed in Islamabad contributed to this report.