Pakistan army urges unity as ex-PMs both declare election win
The influential chief of Pakistan’s army has called on the nation to move away from “anarchy and polarization” as two former prime ministers declared triumph in an election that has exceeded expectations.
With the majority of results tallied, independent candidates associated with imprisoned former Prime Minister Imran Khan have secured the majority of seats.
However, Nawaz Sharif, another former Prime Minister widely perceived as having support from the military, has urged other factions to join him in forming a coalition.
Authorities have dismissed Western criticism regarding the conduct of the election.
In the absence of a clear outcome, General Asim Munir has appealed to all political parties to exhibit maturity and solidarity, asserting that the politics of polarization are unsuitable for a progressive nation of 250 million people.
General Munir remarked, “Elections are not merely a contest of winners and losers but a means to ascertain the people’s mandate.”
Fourteen seats in the National Assembly remain undecided, all within the vast and thinly populated province of Balochistan. However, both Mr. Khan and Mr. Sharif assert victory.
Despite the odds, the election has underscored the enduring support for Imran Khan. Mr. Khan released an AI-generated video message refuting his opponent’s assertions and urging his supporters to rejoice.
He remains incarcerated on charges of divulging state secrets, corruption, and an illicit marriage, and his PTI party was barred from participating in the electoral process.
According to the non-profit Free and Fair Election Network, approximately 100 winning candidates are independents, with all but eight of them having affiliations with the PTI.
On Saturday PTI chairman Gohar Ali Khan said the party would try to form a government and would start protesting on Sunday if complete election results had not been released by then.
Mr Sharif’s PML-N party won 73 seats and he acknowledged that he did not have the numbers to form a government alone, but insisted he could remove the country from difficult times at the head of a coalition.
The PPP of Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the son of assassinated PM Benazir Bhutto, got 54 seats, and the rest – the largest number of seats – were won by smaller parties and independents.
But it could be a while before anyone can claim outright victory, although Mr Sharif’s party has begun talks with other parties.
As a result, Pakistan is facing a “prolonged period of political instability,” said Dr Farzana Shaikh from the Chatham House think tank.
She told the BBC the Khan-linked independents were unlikely to be allowed to form a government. Meanwhile, many people feared a “weak and unstable coalition” would result from any tie-up between Mr Sharif and the PPP.
But Dr Shaikh also said the election also showed growing distaste for the military’s central role in political life.
“Millions of people voted to defy what many believed was the preferred outcome by Pakistan’s unaccountable military establishment,” she said.
The army has been described by analysts as “a state within a state” in Pakistan, and it has influenced national politics and power transitions since Pakistan gained independence from Britain in 1947.
The generals have staged three coups and no prime minister in Pakistan has so far served a full five-year term.
On Friday the US, UK, and EU each expressed concerns about the fairness of the election. UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron said there were “serious concerns” raising questions “about the fairness and lack of inclusivity of the elections”.
But Pakistan’s foreign ministry rejected this as “not even factual”.
It said the statements neither took into account “the complexity of the electoral process” nor acknowledged Pakistanis’ “free and enthusiastic exercise of the right to vote by tens of millions of Pakistanis”.
There were sporadic reports of violence during the election. A former National Assembly member and head of the National Defense Movement Party, Mohsin Dawar was shot and injured in Miranshah, North Waziristan in an incident that killed a fellow party member, his party said.
There were also reports of a protest in the southwestern port city of Gwadar in Balochistan province, where some voters alleged irregularities in vote counting.