Pakistan was thrown into a state of crisis on Friday with its election results still undeclared more than 24 hours after polling closed and the vote marred by widespread allegations of rigging. Analysts and candidates widely questioned the integrity of the polls that took place on Thursday, raising concerns that there was an attempt to rig the vote to bring back the three-time former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, and his Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) to power.
Voters across the country, however, appear to have come out in unprecedented numbers to support Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), the party of the former prime minister Imran Khan, who is serving more than a decade in jail. With more than half the votes counted for the 265 seats in the national assembly, PTI-backed candidates had won 88 seats, PML-N 60 and the Pakistan People’s party 46.
Many PTI leaders alleged that the true number of seats the party had won was much higher, and there were widespread allegations of rigging as the vote count was delayed. Protests against the outcome erupted in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan provinces, where police are alleged to have retaliated with violence, and PTI supporters also came out on to the streets of Lahore.
The lead for Khan’s party came as a shock to many. He is loathed by many in the military leadership after he had a dramatic fallout with senior generals and was toppled from power in 2022. The military has since led a sustained attack on Khan and his PTI, making it clear it would not tolerate his return to power.
But elation at the apparent triumph of the people’s vote over the military’s agenda was short-lived. Declarations of results began to slow down and then stopped altogether. Polling agents began to to say they were unable to collect results and then there was a reported “technical error” in counting. TV stations were said to have received instructions to stop reporting the results.
On Friday morning, about 18 hours after the polls had closed, constituencies began to be declared for the Sharifs and their allies in quick succession in their stronghold of Punjab. Allegations of inconsistencies and rigging also began to emerge. More votes were said to have been counted than registered in Lahore, while the officer overseeing the count was transferred abruptly on Friday morning, allegedly for medical reasons.
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