(Islamabad) Supporters of former Prime Minister Imran Khan, currently imprisoned, are on track on Saturday to obtain a majority of seats after the legislative elections in Pakistan, but they could be excluded from negotiations for the formation of a government coalition .
Although facing fierce repression from the authorities, Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) has surpassed expectations. The independent candidates he supported obtained 87 seats, according to an official count overnight covering 243 of the 266 constituencies.
It is ahead of Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N), the favorite in the election, with 69 seats. Bilawal Bhutto Zardari’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) is third, also doing better than expected with 51 seats.
In the absence of an absolute majority, these three blocs will have to negotiate alliances. The PML-N appears best placed to achieve this, but all options remain open.
“We invite other parties and winning candidates to work with us,” said Nawaz Sharif, 74, who has already served three terms as prime minister, at his party headquarters in Lahore (east).
Returning to Pakistan in October after four years of exile in London, he would have the support of the army, according to observers.
Imran Khan’s party was not allowed to appear on the ballot papers, its candidates presenting themselves as independents.
The National Assembly has 336 deputies, but 70 seats are reserved for women and religious minorities, and allocated proportionally by the Electoral Commission based on previous results. Due to lack of authorization to compete under its colors, the PTI cannot claim any of these seats.
Two PTI supporters killed
Independents cannot form a government themselves and have 72 hours to decide whether they join a parliamentary group or not, which also works against the PTI. This gives his rivals time to woo the independents he supports.
Pro-PTI candidates mainly won seats in the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (northwest), its stronghold, where two of its supporters were killed and 24 injured in riots on Friday evening, in the first post-election violence reported .
On Thursday, 16 people were killed during 61 recorded attacks, according to the Interior Ministry. The day before, 28 people died in two bomb attacks.
Founded on family dynasties and traditionally rivals, the PML-N and the PPP have shared most of the power with the army for decades.
They have already worked together and could repeat the experience. They had formed a coalition government, under the leadership of Shehbaz Sharif, Nawaz’s brother, after the ouster of Imran Khan from the post of prime minister by a motion of no confidence in April 2022.
The PPP then distanced itself from the PML-N during the campaign and seems to have suffered less from the unpopularity of this government.
Its 35-year-old leader, son of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, assassinated in 2007, has been critical of the PML-N. But Pakistani politics is accustomed to reversals and seemingly unnatural arrangements.
“Recount the votes”
For Imran Khan’s voters, the conclusion is likely to be bittersweet. Many are convinced that the victory was stolen from them, the delays in the counting having only added to the multiple suspicions of manipulation.
The Electoral Commission cited “internet problems” to explain the slowness of the process. The authorities’ shutdown of mobile telephone and internet services on Thursday had already fueled doubts about the fairness of the elections.
The campaign was also marked by accusations of “pre-election fraud”, with the sidelining of the popular Imran Khan, 71, sentenced to three long prison terms.
“Even if the PTI fails to form a government, the elections show that there is a limit to electoral manipulation,” Bilal Gilani, executive director of the Gallup Pakistan polling institute, told AFP.
“It shows that the army doesn’t always get what it wants.”
Washington and London expressed their “concerns” on Friday about the conduct of the elections.
Pakistan, which has a nuclear arsenal, occupies a strategic position between Afghanistan, China, India and Iran.
Demonstrations also took place on Friday evening in Peshawar, capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and in Quetta in Balochistan.
“Our results have been changed,” protests Muhammad Saleem, a 28-year-old trader who blocked a major thoroughfare in Peshawar with some 2,000 PTI supporters.
Former cricket star Imran Khan’s anti-establishment stance continues to fuel his popularity, despite a stint in power marked by economic deterioration.
He directly challenged the army, which ruled the country for decades and yet was presumed to have supported him during his election in 2018. He accused it of having orchestrated his fall in 2022 and attributed its legal troubles.