Pakistan election: Ex-cricket star Imran Khan declares victory over Sharif's PML in 'fairest election ever'

All five main parties other than PTI have united in rejecting the election result - a 'crisis situation' if it cannot be resolved

Adam Withnall,Mohammad Zubair Khan
Thursday 26 July 2018 14:21 BST
Imran Khan gives a speech as he declares victory in the general election in Islamabad, Pakistan
Imran Khan gives a speech as he declares victory in the general election in Islamabad, Pakistan (REUTERS)

Imran Khan has declared victory in Pakistan's general election in an address to the nation. The former cricket star's PTI party are projected to comfortably win Wednesday's vote, though fall short of an outright majority.

In his televised speech, Mr Khan vowed to create the "new Pakistan" he promised on the campaign trail. He said he would pursue "strong relations with China" as well as vowing to "try to develop relations with the US based on our mutual benefit". Mr Khan has previously criticised Pakistan's close military allegiance with Washington.

And Mr Khan cited the Prophet Muhammad as his inspiration, saying he would "transform or found" Pakistan as an Islamic state in the model of Muhammad's Medina.

Pakistan's election commission has not yet declared official results, but PTI were leading in 120 of 270 National Assembly constituencies with 49 per cent of polling stations reporting, and held a commanding lead in almost all TV stations' projections.

The sluggish nature of the count - officials had claimed we would have a final result by 2am on Thursday morning - has led losing parties to call foul play.

In a message from his prison cell, the former prime minister and Pakistan Muslim League - Nawaz (PML-N) leader Nawaz Sharif said: "The people's mandate has been stolen.

"All party leaders should now decide what course they are going to take. The Muslim League stands firm on its message of 'vote ko azat do' (respect the vote)."

Mr Khan addressed those concerns in his speech, saying: "I feel that this election has been the fairest in Pakistan's history."

The electoral commission chief had earlier dismissed any claims of rigging, saying the slow count was down to a failure in the electronic system, and Mr Khan pointed out the body was "created by two major political parties, the PML-N and the PPP" - the parties which came second and third in Wednesday's vote, respectively.

"If you think there has been rigging, we will assist you in the investigation if you have any doubts," Mr Khan said. "If any party has any doubts, we will open the results of those constituencies up for investigation."

The country will be plunged into a "crisis situation" if the commission cannot convince all parties the election was fair, warned Ahmad Bilal Mehboob, president of the leading think-tank the Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency (PILDAT).

He said the fact that all Pakistan's five other main political parties were united against PTI could cause "political turmoil". Led by the incumbent PML-N party of jailed Mr Sharif, they have all agreed to stand together to oppose the result, all with the same criticisms that the count was unacceptably delayed and their agents at polling stations were not allowed to verify many of the results.

But before even half the votes were counted, Mr Khan's leading rival Shahbaz Sharif, who heads the PML-N with his brother in jail - rejected the vote, generating fears that the losers could delay the formation of the next government. Television projections give his party about 61 seats.

Shahbaz Sharif said that "our democratic process has been pushed back by decades," adding that "had the public mandate been delivered in a fair manner, we would have accepted it happily".

Complaints have also emerged from the independent Human Rights Commission, which issued a statement saying that in some places women were not allowed to vote.

In other areas, it said "polling staff appeared to be biased toward a certain party," without naming the party.

In the days before Wednesday's election, leading rights activist IA Rehman called the campaign "the dirtiest" in his country's troubled journey towards sustained democracy. If Mr Khan can form a government, it will be the first time Pakistan has ever managed a second successive democratic transition of power.

Regardless, Mr Khan's message of a "new Pakistan" does appear to have resonated with young voters in a country where 64 per cent of its 200 million people are below the age of 30.

Outlining his plans on Thursday evening, in what was his first public speech since the campaign trail, Mr Khan fleshed out his vision for what a "new" country would look like.

He said he would beat corruption in the form of tax avoidance by letting people "see that their taxes are being spent on them".

"I pledge to our people that I will introduce a system that is for the masses - all policies will be for the people," he said.

Mr Khan vowed not to move into the official prime ministerial residence, saying it would be "converted into an educational institution or something of the sort". "I would be ashamed to live in such a large house," he said.

And despite the vitriolic nature of his comments towards India on the campaign trail, he struck a conciliatory tone, saying that "if we want to fight against poverty then we and India have to develop trade ties". He said that he was "the Pakistani who knows the Indian people more than anyone". In his previous incarnation as a playboy celebrity, Mr Khan has dated a number of Bollywood stars.

Celebrations that really began on Wednesday night among Khan supporters are now expected to be injected with new vigour, and a number of parties were planned at local PTI offices across the country for Thursday night. Revellers danced to the sound of beating drums draped in Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf's black and green-coloured flags - excited by the prospect of the political change they voted for.

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