Candidates allied to the jailed former Pakistani PM Imran Khan said on Saturday they plan to form a government.
A senior aide of Khan called on supporters to protest peacefully if final election results are not released.
The nuclear-armed South Asian nation voted on Thursday in a general election, as the country struggles to recover from an economic crisis and battles militant violence in a deeply polarised political environment.
Both Khan and three-time former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif declared victory on Friday.
Gohar Khan, the chairman of Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-Insaf (PTI) party who also acts as the former premier’s lawyer, called on “all institutions” in Pakistan to respect his party’s mandate.
At a media conference, he said if complete results of the polls were not released by Saturday night, the party would hold peaceful protests on Sunday outside government offices returning election results around the country.
Pakistan’s army chief had congratulated the country on Saturday for the “successful conduct” of its national elections, saying the nation needed “stable hands” to move on from the politics of “anarchy and polarisation”.
Pakistan Chief of Army Staff Asim Munir “wishes that these elections bring in political and economic stability and prove to be the harbinger of peace and prosperity,” according to a statement released by the media wing of the military.
Uncertainty on how results will play out
Elections were held for 265 seats in the national assembly and a political party needs 133 seats for a simple majority.
Khan is in jail and his PTI was barred from the polls. But independents aligned to Khan looked to have to won the most seats – 98 of the 245 counted by 1830 GMT – while Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party had won 69 seats.
There is uncertainty on how the results will play out. Observers have said the outcome may change if candidates from different parties challenge the results.
The other complication is that Pakistan requires independent candidates to join a party within three days from when the results are officially declared, which means any new party set up by former PTI ‘independents’ will need to find a quick solution.
Western nations urge probe of irregularities
Leaders from key Western nations have voiced concern and urged a probe into reports of irregularities after the general election on Thursday.
The United States and the European Union all separately expressed concerns on Friday, mentioning allegations of interference, including arrests of activists, and added that claims of irregularities, interference and fraud should be fully investigated.
Khan believes the powerful military is behind a crackdown to hound his party out of existence, while analysts and opponents say Sharif is being backed by the generals.
The EU statement noted a “lack of a level playing field”, attributing that to “the inability of some political actors to contest the elections” and to restrictions to freedom of assembly, freedom of expression and internet access.
The US State Department said there were “undue restrictions” on freedoms of expressions and assembly while noting violence and attacks on media workers.
Some US lawmakers such as Democratic US Representatives Ro Khanna and Ilhan Omar also expressed concerns, with Khanna saying “the military is interfering and rigging the result.”
Both Khanna and Omar urged the State Department not to recognize a winner until investigations are conducted into allegations of misconduct.
Michael Kugelman, director of the South Asia Institute at the Wilson Center think tank in Washington, said both EU and US State Department statements were “relatively mild … considering the great scale of the rigging that went down.”
Earlier this week, the UN human rights office denounced violence against political parties and candidates. It voiced concern over the “pattern of harassment, arrests and prolonged detentions of leaders and supporters” of Khan’s party.
The EU, the US and Britain said they would work with the next government and did not congratulate any candidate or party.
British foreign minister David Cameron’s statement noted “serious concerns raised about the fairness and lack of inclusivity of the elections.”
Multiple legal cases have been brought against Khan, which disqualified him as a candidate and sentenced him to long prison terms. He denies wrongdoing.
Khan was ousted in 2022 after falling out with the country’s powerful military, which denies meddling in politics. His party won the last national election in 2018.
- Reuters with additional editing by Jim Pollard
NOTE: Further details were added to this report on February 10, 2024.