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Pakistani party backed by jailed ex-prime minister wins most seats in parliament

pakistani-party-backed-by-jailed-ex-prime-minister-wins-most-seats-in-parliament
Pakistani party backed by jailed ex-prime minister wins most seats in parliament

The party of the jailed former prime minister of Pakistan won the most seats in Pakistan’s parliamentary elections this week in a resounding rebuke the country’s military leaders.

The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), backed by former Prime Minister Imran Khan, who was imprisoned last month, secured 97 seats in Pakistan’s National Assembly, its lower house, the country’s election commission reported Saturday, according to the New York Times.

The military-supported Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, or P.M.L.N., led by three-time former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, won only least 73 seats, the commission said. Seven seats were unaccounted for, confirming PTI’s majority in parliament.

It marks the first time in Pakistan’s history that a party has been so successful in an election without the backing of the country’s influential military generals — and has sparked a political turmoil, according to the Times.

A portrait of the former Prime Minister Imran Khan

PTI supporters hold portrait of the former Prime Minister Imran Khan. REUTERS

Both Khan and Sharif declared victory for their parties on Friday following Thursday’s general elections, increasing uncertainty over who will form the next government in the troubled country.

Khan’s senior aide said on Saturday the PTI plans to form a government, and urged supporters to peacefully protest if final election results are not released.

Gohar Khan, the PTI chairman who also acts as the former prime minister’s lawyer, called on “all institutions” in Pakistan to respect his party’s mandate. If the final results were not released by Saturday night, he called for protests on Sunday.

The PTI does not have enough candidates to form a simple majority on its own.

Sharif said on Friday his party had emerged as the single largest group and would talk to other groups to form a coalition government.

Polling officers count ballot papers during the general election in Karachi, Pakistan

Polling officers count ballot papers during the general election in Karachi, Pakistan REUTERS

“We are inviting everyone today to rebuild this injured Pakistan and sit with us,” he said in a speech in Lahore, the capital of Punjab Province, according to the Times.

Khan’s supporters ran as independents because the party had been barred from contesting in the polls by the election commission for not complying with electoral laws.

Despite the ban — and Khan’s convictions that ban him from holding office — millions of the former cricket player’s loyal supporters showed out in numbers to cast their vote for him.

However, under Pakistan’s electoral laws, independent candidates are not eligible to be allocated reserved seats — 70 of which are meant to be distributed according to party strength. 

Sharif’s party could get up to 20 of these seats.

Police officers stand guard during a protest by the supporters of the former Prime Minister Imran Khan's party

Police officers stand guard during a protest by the supporters of the former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s party REUTERS

The military reportedly expected an easy victory for the P.M.L.N., according to the Times.

Khan was forced out of office in 2022 following a parliamentary vote of no confidence amid several scandals.

Last month, Khan was sentenced to 10 years in prison by Pakistan’s military leaders for leaking state secrets and, the next day, he and his wife Bushra Khan were each sentenced to 14 years in jail in a case related to illegal selling of state gifts.

Per the verdict, Khan is barred from holding public office for 10 years.

Thursday vote revealed that Khan’s pushback against the military resonated with Pakistanis — especially among young voters, according to the New York Times. The military’s old tactics of demoralizing voters through arrests and lengthy prison sentences for opposition supporters proved ineffective.

On Friday evening, Mr. Khan’s party published a victory speech using a computer-generated voice to simulate that of Mr. Khan, who has been jailed since August. 

“I congratulate you all for your election 2024 victory. I had full confidence that you would all come out to vote,” the A.I.-generated voice said. “Your massive turnout has stunned everybody.”

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