Published: Wed, July 25, 2018
Sport | By Joe Gonzales

Pakistanis head to the polls despite interparty, militant violence

Pakistanis head to the polls despite interparty, militant violence

Khan's chances of becoming prime minister on July 25 are believed to be his best since entering politics two decades ago. Nawaz Sharif was ousted from power a year ago and jailed over a corruption conviction days before the vote, removing Khan's most risky rival.

Khan, 65, has hailed Sharif's conviction on corruption charges this month as proof democracy is maturing in the nuclear-armed Muslim-majority nation of 208 million by finally holding its venal political elite accountable.

Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, the supremo of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) who was jailed this month after being convicted in a corruption case also accused the military of pressuring the judiciary to convict him.

The poll outcome could result in a weak coalition government especially at a time when Pakistan urgently needs to address a foreign currency crisis and may also need to approach the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a second bailout in almost five years.

As polls closed, but before results came in, jubilant supporters of both the PML-N and PTI drove their the streets of the city, waving flags and happily shouting their party's slogans.

Imran Khan, Tehreek-e-Insaf party leader, addresses the crowd ahead of Wednesday's election.

This will, in turn, create two key competitors for forming the federal government. Speaking to the media, the younger brother of the former Prime Minister urged the masses to vote for the PML-N to change the country's destiny.

Many experts contend that it will be business as usual whoever wins the election, with the military - which has ruled the country directly or indirectly for much of its 71-year history - remaining Pakistan's de facto ruler.

The divisive campaign is likely to complicate any coalition negotiations after the vote, if they are necessary.

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According to unofficial and unverified results, Imran Khan-led Pakistan Tehreek-e-Pakistan (PTI) is ahead on more than 122 National Assembly seats and PML-N is lagging behind with 55. Since the general seats are 272, a political party needs 137 seats to reach a majority in the House and form the government in the country. A further 70 seats for women and minorities are awarded proportionally based on the voting percentages.

Sharif's PML-N has been touting its delivery of mega infrastructure projects, especially roads and power stations that helped hugely reduce electricity blackouts, as proof the country is on the path to prosperity. Nevertheless, the party is a strong contender in the elections and has an even stronger candidate in Shahbaz Sharif to cause an upset.

Khan has banked on gains in the PML-N stronghold of Punjab, Pakistan's most-populous province that has 141 elected seats, for his path to victory, successfully courting many so-called "electables" - entrenched local power brokers who often hold sway over about a quarter of Punjab's seats.

PML-N spokeswoman Maryam Aurangzeb also said there had been complaints about the vote counting.

"We totally reject this result", he said.

The former ruling party had gone into the general polls, with probably the toughest electoral battle in its history. "I can hear the chants of "give respect to vote" from all directions", Sharif said.

"I was going to vote for Nawaz Sharif, but the way that he lied on the floor of the House, that convinced me that I couldn't vote for him", said Ahmed Ali Malik, a retired banker who flew in from Manchester in the United Kingdom to vote at Lahore's Delhi Gate.

Sharif, 68, was removed by presidential decree in 1993, in a military coup in 1999, and a year ago by the Supreme Court, which ordered his corruption trial.

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