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Imran Khan needs support of smaller parties or independents to become Pak PM

Although Imran Khan’s PTI appeared likely to fall short of the 137 seats needed for a majority in the National Assembly, his better-than-expected results mean he should have no problems forming a government with coalition partners.

world Updated: Jul 27, 2018 23:52 IST
Imtiaz Ahmad
Imtiaz Ahmad
Hindustan Times, Islamabad
Imran Khan,Pakistan election result,Pakistan election 2018
The election will lead to what will only be the second civilian-to-civlian transition of power in Pakistan’s 70-year history.(AP)

Cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) emerged as the largest party in the National Assembly on Friday from this week’s general election, but fell short of a majority and will have to lean on smaller parties and independents for support to form the next government.

PTI won 115 of the 270 seats to which elections were held on Wednesday, followed by jailed former prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) with 62 seats and former President Asif Ali Zardar’s Pakistan Peoples Party with 43, according to the Election Commission, which declared the results for 261 seats. Independents won 12 seats.

The Mutahidda Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), an alliance of traditional religious parties like the Jamat-i-Islami, clinched 12 seats while the Pakistan Muslim League of former Punjab chief minister Pervaiz Elahi won five seats. The Karachi-based Mutahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) won six seats.

Nearly-finalised results also indicate religious parties that fielded more candidates than ever before failed to win any National Assembly seats. The Allahu Akbar Tehreek party of Hafiz Saeed, who is accused of masterminding the 2008 attacks that killed 166 people in Mumbai, did not win a single seat. Neither did candidates linked to Sunni extremist group Ahl-e-Sunnat Wal Jamaat.

Although Khan, 65, appeared likely to fall short of the 137 seats needed for a majority in the National Assembly, his better-than-expected results mean he should have no problems forming a government with coalition partners, after an election that will lead to what will only be the second civilian-to-civlian transition of power in Pakistan’s 70-year history.

“That [forming a coalition] will not be a problem... The independents know that the establishment is inclined towards Imran Khan,” retired general and analyst Talat Masood said. Establishment is a euphemism for the military in Pakistan.

PTI leader Naeemul Haq told the media on Friday that his party would be forming the government both at the centre and in Punjab provincem Pakistan’s largest. Haq said Khan had asked different party leaders to contact the leadership of different political parties in a bid to build a coalition. At he same time he said he was not aware of any contact with the leadership of the Pakistan Peoples Party. “I don’t think we will be entering into any understanding with them,” he said.

PML-N has charged that the election had been rigged following a bitter campaign in which Pakistan’s powerful military was accused of tilting the race in favour of Khan, and trying to erase democratic gains made since the most recent spell of military rule ended in 2008. On Friday, however,PML-N seemed ready to accept that Khan would be the next prime minister .

“We are going to sit on opposition benches, despite all the reservations,” said Hamza Shehbaz Sharif, a parliamentarian and nephew of Nawaz Sharif, who is in prison after being convicted on corruption charges that he has disputed.

“(PML-N) would play the role of a strong opposition,” said Shehbaz Sharif, the PML-N president and brother of Nawaz Sharif, according to the English-language Dawn newspaper.

Nawaz Sharif himself said the polls had been “stolen” and the “tainted and dubious” results would have a “bad impact” on the country’s politics, according to a number of his party leaders who visited the Adiala jail in Rawalpindi to meet him after the elections.

European Union (EU) monitors said on Friday that the election had not been fought on a level playing field. The EU Election Observation Mission, in its preliminary report, said the campaign week featured a “lack of equality”.

“Although there were several legal provisions aimed at ensuring a level playing field, we have concluded that there was a lack of equality and opportunity,” chief EU observer Michael Gahler told a news conference. He added later: “The credibility or the legitimacy of this process, that is for the people of Pakistan [to decide on].”

Khan, during a speech declaring victory on Thursday, offered to investigate opposition claims of vote-rigging and said he wanted to “unite” the country under his leadership. He also held out an olive branch to India, promising to match with two steps every step India takes towards Pakistan.

Analyst Ayesha Siddiqa said observers who suspect rigging behind Khan’s victory may have underestimated the depth of feeling among Pakistan’s growing middle class.

“This is a middle class revolution,” Siddiqa said. “Remember they grew up on this narrative of a corrupt Pakistan being damaged and needing a new leadership... In all this hue and cry, we didn’t notice there is another Pakistan there that wanted this change.”

Khan campaigned on promises to end widespread graft while building an “Islamic welfare state”. Known in Pakistan as “Taliban Khan” for his calls to hold talks with insurgents, he increasingly catered to religious hardliners during the campaign — particularly over the hugely inflammatory charge of blasphemy — spurring fears that his leadership could embolden extremists.

On Thursday, he vowed to tackle corruption that was “eating our country like a cancer” and touched on promises to balance relations with the US that would be “beneficial” for both countries. Khan also said he was open to sitting down with India to discuss ongoing disputes in Kashmir,

Khan’s party also appears to have succeeded in wresting control of the local assembly in Pakistan’s biggest province, Punjab, from the Sharifs.

The News newspaper and other local media reported PML-N was unlikely to form the government in Punjab, home to more than half of Pakistan’s 208 million people and the power base of the Sharif family for more than three decades.

(With agency inputs)

First Published: Jul 27, 2018 22:27 IST