Former cricketer Imran Khan leads in slow count after Pakistan election
The winner will face a crumbling economy and bloodshed by militants.
Votes are being counted in Pakistan following an election marred by allegations of fraud and militant violence.
Counting has been very slow, yet from the outset cricket star Imran Khan and his party have maintained a commanding lead.
Election officials said it will be Thursday evening before an official count confirms Pakistan’s next government.
But before even half the votes were counted, Mr Khan’s leading rival Shahbaz Sharif, who heads the Pakistan Muslim League, rejected the vote, generating fears that disgruntled losers could delay the formation of the next government.
The Pakistan Muslim League is the party of jailed ex-prime minister Nawaz Sharif
The winner will face a crumbling economy and bloodshed by militants, who sent a suicide bomber to a crowded polling station in the south-western city of Quetta to carry out a deadly attack that killed 31 people.
The parliamentary balloting marked only the second time in Pakistan’s 71-year history that one civilian government has handed power to another in the country of 200 million people.
Yet there have been widespread concerns during the election campaign about manipulation by the military, which has directly or indirectly ruled Pakistan for most of its existence.
In a tweet on his official account, Pakistan’s military spokesman General Asif Ghafoor called accusations of interference “malicious propaganda”.
In the tweet, which featured a collage of pictures of Pakistanis handing military personnel at polling stations flowers and elderly women kissing soldiers, Gen Ghafoor wrote that the “world has seen your love and respect for Pak Armed Forces & LEAs (law enforcement agencies) today. U hv rejected all kinds of malicious propaganda”.
The military deployed 350,000 troops at the 85,000 polling stations. More than 11,000 candidates vied for 270 seats in the National Assembly, and 577 seats in four provincial assemblies.
The attack outside the polling station in Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan province, underscored the difficulties the majority Muslim nation faces on its journey towards sustained democracy.
Baluchistan also saw the worst violence during campaigning earlier this month, when a suicide bomber struck at a political rally, killing 149 people, including a candidate. Another 400 were wounded.
Throughout the night, Khan supporters celebrated outside party offices countrywide.
Mr Khan, who is a cricket star, has appealed to the youth with promises of a new Pakistan. According to the United Nations, 65% of Pakistan’s 200 million people are under 30.
Mr Khan has been an outspoken critic of the US-led war in neighbouring Afghanistan as well as China’s massive investment in Pakistan.