Candidates loyal to jailed former prime minister Imran Khan were edging ahead in Pakistan’s election, in front of the two dynastic parties believed to be favoured by the military, as delayed results trickled in.
Khan was barred from contesting Thursday’s election and his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party faced a sweeping crackdown — blocked from holding rallies and taken off the ballot paper, forcing its candidates to run as independents.
But official results showed independents backed by PTI had won around 38 seats so far, against 34 for the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), and 27 for the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP).
Unofficial tallies on local TV stations had independents in the lead for many of the remaining seats up for grabs in the 266-member assembly.
“Independents spring surprise, PTI-backed candidates defy odds,” said the headline of the English-language Express Tribune newspaper.
“There was a sense of certainty about the outcome,” Sarah Khan, an assistant professor of political science at Yale University, told AFP.
“That sense of certainty got upset very early on,” she added. “It’s definitely not the foregone conclusion that anybody thought it might be.”
The election was marred by violence, mostly in the border regions neighbouring Afghanistan, with a total of 51 attacks nationwide, the army said, killing a dozen people including 10 security force members — fewer than in 2018, when dozens were killed.
More than 650,000 army, paramilitary and police personnel were deployed to provide security on Thursday.
– A quarter of votes counted –
On Friday, coming up to 24 hours after polls closed, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) had announced just over a third of the National Assembly seat winners, attributing the delay to a day-long mobile network shutdown imposed by the government during voting on Thursday.
“The delaying tactics speak loudly of the results being rigged and there is no other reason behind the delay,” Nisar Ahmed, a 45-year-old shop owner told AFP.
There could be “no other reason except the results are being tampered with,” added Sadaf Farooqi, a 40-year schoolteacher.
The PML-N had been expected to win the most seats following Thursday’s vote, with analysts saying its 74-year-old founder Nawaz Sharif had the blessing of the military-led establishment.
PLM-N spokeswoman Marriyum Aurangzeb said they were still hopeful of taking the largest province of Punjab, crucial to forming a government.