Pakistan’s Imran Khan wins vote but no majority
Cricket hero Imran Khan has swept to an emphatic victory in a Pakistan election criticised by foreign observers Friday, but without a majority he will need to enter a coalition to take power in the nuclear-armed country.
The pivotal election has been branded “Pakistan’s dirtiest”, after widespread claims in the months leading up to the vote that the powerful military was trying to fix the playing field in Khan’s favour.
European Union election observers expressed concerns that there was “a notable lack in equality of opportunity” in the vote, which was “not as good” as the country’s previous election in 2013.
Rival parties, including the outgoing Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), have alleged “blatant” rigging over the vote count, and were meeting late Friday to discuss the results.
The PML-N, which claims it was the target of the military manipulation, has vowed to fight the results in court.
But for now Khan’s victory represents an end to decades of rotating leadership between the PML-N and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) that was punctuated by periods of military rule.
The Election Commission (ECP) said Friday that with only a handful of seats left to count, Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) enjoys a strong lead with 116 seats, and will be the biggest party in parliament.
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 Khan took power it would have to be via coalition — but the size of his lead still took many by surprise, and helped fuel suspicion over vote rigging.
But analyst Ayesha Siddiqa said observers may have underestimated the depth of feeling among Pakistan’s growing middle class.
“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,” she told AFP.
Khan campaigned on promises to end widespread graft while building an “Islamic welfare state”.
Now the former World Cup cricket champion will have to partner with independents and smaller parties, a task analysts said should be straightforward.
“That will not be a problem… The independents know that the establishment is inclined toward Imran Khan,” retired general and analyst Talat Masood told AFP, using a word widely understood in Pakistan to mean the military.
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 marred by violence and allegations of military interference.
The ECP issued the results after being under fire for delays in vote-counting. They dismissed the hold-up as a technical glitch.
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”.
The EU Election Observation Mission to Pakistan’s chief Michael Gahler told reporters in Islamabad that “A number of violent attacks, targeting political parties, party leaders, candidates and election officials, severely affected the campaign environment”.
“Many of our interlocutors acknowledged a systematic effort to undermine the former ruling party through cases of corruption, contempt of court and terrorist charges against its leaders and candidates,” he continued.
Khan claimed victory in a wide-ranging address to the nation Thursday.
He vowed to tackle corruption that was “eating our country like a cancer” and touched on promises to balance relations with the US that would be “beneficial” for both countries.
Khan added he was open to a sit-down with arch-rival India to discuss ongoing disputes in the divided Himalayan territory of Kashmir, which is claimed in full by both nations.
Khan will face myriad challenges including militant extremism, an economic crisis with speculation that Pakistan will have to seek a bailout from the International Monetary Fund, water shortages, and a booming population negating growth in the developing country, among others.
He will also have to contend with the same issue as many of his predecessors: how to maintain a balance of power in civil-military relations.
In the West, Khan is typically seen through the prism of his celebrity and high-profile romances, but at home he cuts a more conservative persona as a devout Muslim who believes feminism has degraded motherhood.
Known in Pakistan as “Taliban Khan” for his calls to hold talks with insurgents, he increasingly catered to religious hardliners during the campaign, particularly over the inflammatory charge of blasphemy, spurring fears his leadership could embolden extremists.
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