Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif was locked in a series of meetings with aides and potential allies as he prepared to form Pakistan’s government for a record third time following an election that appears to have handed him an unanticipated scale of victory.
A day after millions of Pakistanis defied violence and the threat of bombs from the Taliban to cast their votes, Mr Sharif held a series of meetings at his sprawling home at Raiwind, south-west of Lahore. He was also receiving calls of congratulations from world leaders – India’s Manmohan Singh and Afghanistan’s Hamid Karzai being among the first to pick up the telephone.
The votes from Saturday’s election are still being officially tallied. But local media has projected that Mr Sharif could win around 120 of the 272 contested seats of the country’s parliament. Even if he fails to secure a simple majority, he is unlikely to have difficulties in attracting coalition partners which he hopes will allow him to form a simple administration.
Lahore erupted in celebrations late on Saturday night and having appeared before his screaming, chanting supporters to acknowledge his achievement, the 63-year-old Mr Sharif made no further public comments on Sunday. But senior members of his Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) party claimed Mr Sharif intended to make an impact within a 100 days of taking office.
“A first priority is to deal with the economy,” former finance minister Sartaj Aziz, told a group of foreign reporters. “Obviously not everything can be done in 100 days. Dealing with the energy crisis is one of our main obstacles to progress right now.”
He added: “I have no doubt that a first priority for Mr Sharif will be to call a meeting of business leaders to set something up to try and revive the economy.”
Mr Sharif, who twice served terms during the 1990s and was forced into exile following a 1999 military coup led by Gen Pervez Musharraf, was able to launch his campaign on the back of deep, solid support in Punjab, the country’s wealthiest and most important province. His party has also swept back to power in the provincial assembly here.
But in terms of the national assembly, his constituency victories have come almost entirely from Punjab, something his opponents were quick to point out. Mr Sharif’s party will look to line up support from independent candidates and smaller in Baluchistan and Sindh.
Mr Sharif’s campaign saw off a spirited challenge from former cricketer Imran Khan and his Pakistan Movement for Justice Party (PTI). Projections suggested Mr Khan could with 35 seats in the national assembly, pushing the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) into third place and securing the position of leader of the opposition.
The once-mighty PPP, the party of Zulifikar Ali Bhutto and his daughter, Benazir, has been reduced to a total of perhaps as few as 34 seats in the parliament, its support remaining strong only in Sindh.
The 60-year-old Mr Khan, whose party looks set to take control of the provincial government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, a region repeatedly rocked by militant violence, issued another video statement from his hospital bed in which he accepted the outcome but said there had been rigging.
“I congratulate the entire nation for taking part in such a massive democratic process. We are moving forward on the path of democracy,” the former cricket star said, speaking from the hospital bed where he is laid up with fractured vertebrae following a fall during the last week of campaigning.
A spokesman for Mr Sharif, Tariq Azeem, said it would be up to election observers to determine whether or not the polls was fair. “I think the PTI is following a tradition of people who lose votes and claim the vote was rigged,” he said.
Violence marred the vote in the southern port city of Karachi, the northwest and in the southwestern province of Baluchistan. At least 29 people died in election-related attacks, but people still came out in droves. Election officials said the turnout was close to 60 percent, easily eclipsing the 44 per cent of voters who came to the polls in 2008.
Observers said they were investigating allegation of problems at certain polling booths. However, the Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN), an alliance of 42 civil society organisations working on democracy and election monitoring, on Sunday praised the election commission for a smooth process.
It said voters defied direct threats of violence and queued up at the polling stations to produce “a relatively high turnout and public enthusiasm”. “We observed the May 11 elections through 41,000 observers across the country and have received reports from 3,500 polling stations so far,” said chairman Zahid Islam, according to the AFP.