A senior aide to the jailed Pakistani opposition leader, Imran Khan, said on Saturday that his party and its allies had won the general election and would form the next government, according to Reuters.
He urged “all institutions” in Pakistan to respect his party’s mandate and warned of peaceful protests if the final results were delayed.
Pakistan, a South Asian nation of 241 million people, voted on Thursday amid an economic crisis, militant violence and political polarisation. Both Khan and his main rival, Nawaz Sharif, a three-time former prime minister, claimed victory on Friday, creating confusion over who would lead the country.
Gohar Khan, the chairman of Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-Insaf (PTI) party and his lawyer, said at a press conference that if the complete results were not released by Saturday night, the party would hold peaceful protests on Sunday outside the offices that were returning the election results.
Sharif said on Friday that his party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), was the single largest group and would seek a coalition with other parties.
By Saturday evening, 10 of the 265 seats contested in the election were still undecided, two days after the polls closed. The latest tally on the election commission’s website showed that independent candidates had won 100 seats, followed by Sharif’s PML-N with 72 seats.
However, at least 90 of the independent candidates were backed by Khan and his party, according to a Reuters analysis, giving them a clear edge over Sharif’s party. Khan’s supporters ran as independents because they were banned from the polls by the election commission for violating electoral laws.
Despite the ban and Khan’s imprisonment for charges ranging from leaking state secrets to corruption to an unlawful marriage, millions of his fans, who admire him as a former cricket star, voted for him.
But under Pakistan’s electoral laws, independent candidates cannot get reserved seats, which are 70 in total and are distributed according to party strength. Sharif’s party could get up to 20 of these seats.
Zulfi Bukhari, Khan’s close aide and media adviser, told Reuters that the party would announce within a day the party banner that they would ask the independents to join. In Pakistan, independent candidates cannot form a government on their own and need to join a party.
“And we have no fear of independents going anywhere, because these are the people who have struggled for the last 18 months and endured all kinds of torture and oppression,” Bukhari told Reuters in a WhatsApp voice message.
To form the next government, any party or coalition would need support from other parties, as none of them were close to the seat threshold for a simple majority in parliament. Besides Khan and Sharif, the Pakistan Peoples Party of Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the son of assassinated premier Benazir Bhutto, was a major player with at least 53 seats.
The remaining seats were won by small parties and other independents. This would lead to intense political negotiations in the next few days before a parliamentary vote to elect a new prime minister and government.
Pakistan’s army chief praised the country on Saturday for the “successful conduct” of the election, saying the nation needed “stable hands” to move on from the politics of “anarchy and polarisation”.
The military is the country’s most powerful institution and has often influenced or toppled governments. Khan accuses the military of cracking down on him and his party. The military denies this.
From jail, Khan released an audio-visual message created with artificial intelligence rather than having a statement read out by his lawyers, as is usually the case, in which he rejected Sharif’s claim to victory.
In the message posted on social media platform X, he called on his supporters to celebrate what he called a win that had been achieved despite a crackdown on his party and alleged poll rigging to limit the success of PTI-backed candidates.
The United States, Britain and the European Union on Friday each expressed concerns about the electoral process, urging a probe into reported irregularities.
British Foreign Secretary David Cameron cited “serious concerns” that raised questions “about the fairness and lack of inclusivity of the elections”.
Pakistan’s foreign office responded to the comments on Saturday, saying they ignored the “undeniable fact” that the election had been successfully conducted.
“It is our hope that the process will be concluded effectively and it will reflect the will of the people,” said former Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, who is leading the Commonwealth team to observe the voting.
Jonathan called on those with grievances over the election to raise them in line with the laws of Pakistan.