Imran Khan leads in Pakistan elections marred by fraud allegations
Pakistan election results: Former cricket captain nears his goal to be the country’s next prime minister but he may not get a clear majority .Updated: Jul 26, 2018 08:25 IST
Hindustan Times, Islamabad
Cricket star Imran Khan took an early lead in the Pakistan general election even as his main rivals complained of poll rigging amid suspicions of military interference and the shock of a suicide bombing.
Electoral authorities said official results declaring an outright winner were not expected before late Thursday morning. However, early unofficial results gave Khan and his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Party (PTI) a clear lead over his main rival, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N).
At 5 am on Thursday, the PTI was leading in 117 seats, PML-N in 70 and the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) in 42. Only one constituency had completed its full counting of votes until then. The chief election commissioner announced what he called the “first non-official, preliminary result” of the elections — PTI leader Chaudhry Adnan had won PP-11 (Rawalpindi VI) with 43,089 votes.
Despite the delay, PTI supporters could already be seen celebrating in cities across the country, including Lahore, Islamabad, Multan and Rawalpindi, with fireworks, dancing and reports of celebratory gunshots. “Kaptaan is now just few steps away from becoming the Prime Minister of Pakistan,” tweeted PTI, referring to Khan’s previous career as the country’s world cup-winning cricket captain.
Addressing a press conference at 4 am, chief election commissioner Muhammad Raza Khan said “technical difficulties” were behind the unprecedented delay in declaring the results. “I am aware that the delay in announcement of results has caused some annoyance. But the results transmission system was a new one, and we were implementing it for the first time. That’s why there was some delay,” he added.
When asked to comment on the allegations of poll rigging, he replied: “We will prove ourselves that we did our job right.”
PML-N spokesperson Marriyum Aurangzeb objected to the counting process, alleging that the party’s agents were being forced out of polling stations in various constituencies. “The counting process is being carried out behind closed doors,” Aurangzeb told mediapersons.
Party leader Shahbaz Sharif was just as dismissive of the PTI’s good showing. “What they have done today has pushed Pakistan back 30 years... We reject this result,” the brother of Pakistan’s jailed ex-leader Nawaz Sharif told a press conference in Lahore.
The PPP also alleged that the vote-count was being manipulated. “My candidates are complaining that polling agents have been thrown out of polling stations across the country,” tweeted party leader Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, adding: “Inexcusable & outrageous.”
“The whole elections could be declared null and void, if the ECP (Election Commission of Pakistan) fails to address our grievances,” said PPP senator Sherry Rehman.
The rigging allegations came after a suicide bombing in the southwestern city of Quetta, claimed by the Islamic State (IS) group, killed at least 31 people and cast a shadow over voting day. Local officials said when the bomber tried to enter a polling station police stopped him, and he blew himself up, news agency AFP reported.
It was the second major attack by IS this month in Balochistan province after an earlier blast at a campaign rally killed 153.
The vote was a rare democratic transition of power in the populous but poor nuclear-armed Muslim country, which has been ruled by the armed forces for roughly half its history.
The contest largely became a two-way race between Khan’s PTI and the PML-N of ousted premier Nawaz Sharif, whose brother Shahbaz is leading its campaign.
Bhutto—son of slain former prime minister Benazir Bhutto—and his PPP could be called upon to form a coalition with any winner.
Up to 800,000 police and troops were stationed at more than 85,000 polling stations across the country, after a string of attacks targeting political events in the final weeks of the campaign killed more than 180 people, including three candidates.
Khan, 65, campaigned on populist promises to build a “New Pakistan” and vowed to eradicate corruption, clean up the environment and construct an “Islamic welfare” state.
But the erstwhile playboy’s bid for power was dogged by widespread accusations he is benefiting from the support of the country’s powerful security establishment. The media, activists and think tanks have decried a “silent coup” by the generals.
The military has rejected the accusations.
Election authorities granted military officers broad powers inside polling centres which further stirred fears of manipulation. Journalists were barred from entering polling stations in Lahore and Rawalpindi at several points throughout the day.
Khan has also increasingly catered to hardline religious groups, particularly over the inflammatory issue of blasphemy, sparking fears a win for PTI could embolden Islamist extremists.
As polls closed, Election Commission spokesman Nadeem Qasim told The Associated Press that the commission had told Khan that his vote could be disqualified because he cast his ballot in front of TV cameras, violating constitutional provisions on “the secrecy of the ballot paper.” Video images showed a smiling Khan with his ballot in front of him as he marked it.
The PML(N )says it is the target of the alleged military machinations. Nawaz Sharif was ousted from power last year and jailed over a corruption conviction days before the vote, removing Khan’s most dangerous rival.
Pakistan’s National Assembly comprises a total of 342 members, of which 272 are directly elected whereas the rest—60 seats reserved for women and 10 for religious minorities—are selected later through proportional representation among parties with more than five per cent of the vote. Elections were held on 272 seats on Wednesday. A party will need 136 of the directly elected seats to form a government on its own.
(With inputs from Imtiaz Ahmad in Islamabad, Bloomberg, AP, PTI and AFP)
First Published: Jul 25, 2018 21:35 IST