Cricket hero Imran Khan has swept to an emphatic victory in a disputed Pakistan election, but without a majority he will need to enter a coalition to take power in the nuclear-armed country.
A jubilant Khan had already declared victory in the pivotal vote, which has drawn allegations from rival parties of massive vote-rigging in his favour.
The Election Commission (ECP) said Friday that with only 11 seats left to count, Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) enjoys a strong lead with 114 seats, and will be the biggest party in parliament.
At a press conference the commission said that the outgoing Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) had 63 seats and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), which could prove kingmaker in a coalition government, had won 43.
The count indicates PTI will not achieve the 137 seats needed in the National Assembly to form a majority government in its own right.
Analysts had long predicted that if he took power it would have to be via coalition, with doubts over the level of support for him nationally.
But the size of his lead still took many by surprise, and had helped fuel suspicion over vote rigging late Wednesday and Thursday.
Analyst Ayesha Siddiqa said observers may have underestimated the depth of feeling among Pakistan’s growing middle class.
“The military, the judiciary, the professional middle class supported him. This is a middle class revolution,” Siddiqa told AFP.
“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, who captained Pakistan to their cricket World Cup victory in 1992, campaigned on promises to end widespread graft while building an “Islamic welfare state”.
The vote was meant to be a rare democratic transition in the Muslim country, which has been ruled by the powerful army for roughly half its history, but was been marred by violence and allegations of military interference.
The ECP issued the results after being under fire for delays in vote-counting after ballots closed, with observers saying the hold-up also undermined the legitimacy of the exercise.
Election officials have dismissed allegations of manipulation — blaming the delay in the results, an unofficial version of which had been expected late Wednesday, on technical glitches.
Most rival parties, including the PML-N and the PPP, had alleged rigging. The PML-N has vowed to fight the matter in court.
The “scale of procedural irregularities during the voting process was relatively low”, a Pakistani election observer group, the Free And Fair Election Network (FAFEN), said in its preliminary assessment Friday.
The group, which said it observed 37,001 of the more than 85,000 polling stations across the country, noted there were irregularities that need to be addressed, but that it expected the ECP to “allay the concerns of major political parties over the integrity of results”.
International observers from the European Union and the Commonwealth are due to give their preliminary assessments of the vote later on Friday.
Analysts had also predicted that the PPP could become kingmaker in any coalition, but on Friday a PTI spokesman ruled them out.
“We will not make any agreement or alliance with the Peoples Party for the formation of the government,” Naeem ul Haq told reporters in Islamabad.
He said the party was already in contact with independent members in Punjab province, historically a PML-N stronghold.
Khan claimed victory in a wide-ranging address to the nation Thursday.
“We were successful and we were given a mandate,” he said from his home in the capital Islamabad.
The former all-rounder’s statement came after his supporters took to the streets to celebrate late Wednesday.
Photo credit to Associated Press.