Pakistan election: Imran Khan allies win most seats as ex-PM Nawaz Sharif seeks coalition

Key Points
  • Former Pakistani prime ministers Nawaz Sharif and the imprisoned Imran Khan have both declared election victories.
  • Sharif’s group won the most seats by a single party.
  • But Khan’s supporters – who ran as independents – won the most seats overall.
Former Pakistani prime ministers and bitter rivals Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan on Friday both declared victory in elections marred by delayed results and militant attacks, throwing the country into further political turmoil.
Sharif’s party won the most seats by a single party in Thursday’s election, but supporters of imprisoned Khan, who ran as independents instead of as a single bloc after his party was barred from the polls, won the most seats overall.
Sharif said his party would talk to other groups to form a coalition government as it had failed to win a clear majority on its own.

Sharif’s announcement came after more than three-quarters of the 265 seats had declared results, more than 24 hours after polling ended on Thursday when 28 people were killed in militant attacks.

Analysts had predicted there may be no clear winner, adding to the woes of a country struggling to recover from an economic crisis while it grapples with rising militancy in a deeply polarised political environment.
The results showed independents, most of them backed by Khan, had won the most seats — 98 of the 245 counted by 1830 GMT.
Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) won 69 while the Pakistan People’s Party of Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the son of assassinated premier Benazir Bhutto, got 51.

The rest were won by small parties and other independents.

Nawaz Sharif waving and smiling while two supporters next to him wave.

Nawaz Sharif (centre), his brother Shehbaz Sharif (right) and daughter Maryam Nawaz wave to supporters following initial results of the country’s parliamentary election in Lahore, Pakistan. Source: AAP / K.M. Chaudary/AP

“Pakistan Muslim League is the single-largest party in the country today after the elections and it is our duty to bring this country out of the whirlpool,” Sharif told a crowd of supporters gathered outside his home in the eastern city of Lahore.

“Whoever has got the mandate, whether independents or parties, we respect the mandate they have got,” he said.

“We invite them to sit with us and help this wounded nation get back on its feet.”

Khan rejects Sharif’s victory declaration

Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party released an audio-visual message created using artificial intelligence and shared on his X social media account.
In the message, which is usually delivered by word through his lawyers, Khan, 71, rejected Sharif’s claim to victory, congratulated his supporters on “winning” the election and urged them to celebrate and protect their vote.
“I trusted that you all would come out to vote — and you honoured that trust and your massive turnout has shocked everyone,” the message said, adding no one would accept Sharif’s claim because he had won fewer seats and because there had been alleged rigging in the polls.
Former cricket superstar Khan has been in jail since August, and was for 10, 14 and seven years in cases related to state secrets, graft and an unlawful marriage.
Imran Khan gesturing and speaking in between two flags.

Imran Khan in 2023. Source: Getty / Arif Ali/AFP

Sharif, 74, a three-time former premier, returned from four years of self-imposed exile in the United Kingdom late last year, having contested the last election from a jail cell on a graft conviction.

He was considered the front-runner to lead the country, having buried a long-running feud with the powerful military.
Sharif said his party would have preferred to win a majority of its own but in the absence of that would get in touch with others, including former President Asif Ali Zardari of PPP, to open negotiations as early as Friday night.
In its first reaction, a senior aide of Khan said PTI leaders would hold talks among themselves and also meet Khan in jail on Saturday to discuss the results, Geo News reported.

Results of the vote have been unusually delayed, which the caretaker government ascribed to the suspension of mobile phone services — a security measure ahead of the election.

A group of people celebrating, with one holding flowers

Malik Amir Dogar (centre), an independent candidate supported by Khan’s Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf party (PTI), celebrates as he claims victory in his constituency in the general election in Multan. Source: AAP / Fasil Kareem/EPA

Independent members cannot form a government on their own under Pakistan’s complex election system which also includes reserved seats that will be allotted to parties based on their winnings.

But independents have the option to join any party after the elections.

US, UK and EU express concerns around electoral process

The United States, Britain and the European Union separately expressed concerns about Pakistan’s electoral process in the wake of the vote, and urged an investigation into reported irregularities.
The US and the EU both mentioned allegations of interference, including arrests of activists, and added that claims of irregularities, interference and fraud should be fully investigated.

The EU statement noted a “lack of a level playing field”, attributing that to “the inability of some political actors to contest the elections” and to restrictions to freedom of assembly, freedom of expression and internet access.

The US State Department said there were “undue restrictions” on freedoms of expression and assembly while noting violence and attacks on media workers.
Earlier this week, the UN human rights office denounced violence against political parties and candidates. It voiced concern over the “pattern of harassment, arrests and prolonged detentions of leaders and supporters” of Khan’s party.

The EU, the US and Britain said they would work with the next government and did not congratulate any candidate or party. British foreign minister David Cameron’s statement noted “serious concerns raised about the fairness and lack of inclusivity of the elections”.

Experts say coalition will face challenges

The main electoral battle had been expected to be between candidates backed by Khan, whose PTI won the last national election, and the PML-N.
Khan believes the powerful military is behind a crackdown to hound his party out of existence, while analysts and opponents say Sharif is being backed by the generals.
The military has dominated the nuclear-armed country either directly or indirectly in its 76 years of independence from Britain but for several years it has maintained it does not interfere in politics.
Analysts say a coalition government will struggle to tackle multiple challenges — foremost being seeking a new bailout programme from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) after the current arrangement expires in three weeks.
A coalition government “would probably be unstable, weak” and “the big loser … will be the army”, said Marvin Weinbaum, director of Afghanistan and Pakistan Studies at the Middle East Institute in Washington.
“Because the army really has staked its reputation on its ability to deliver this vote.”

The election was expected to help resolve the crises Pakistan has been dealing with but a fractured verdict “could very well be the basis for even deeper exposure to forces which would create instability”, he said.