- Early projections from four local TV channels all put Khan’s party ahead
- A spokeswoman for Sharif’s party said there were already “serious reservations” about the vote count
ISLAMABAD: Pakistan was locked in a close and tense election race on Wednesday, pitting cricket hero Imran Khan against the party of jailed ex-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in a process marred by a suicide bomb that killed 31 people near a polling station.
Neither Khan nor Sharif’s party appeared likely to win a clear majority in the National Assembly, with results likely to be known by around 2 a.m. local time on Thursday (2100 GMT Wednesday).
Early projections from four local TV channels all put Khan’s party ahead, estimating it would win between 94 and 102 of 272 elected seats available, while Sharif’s outgoing ruling party was estimated at between 40 and 58. However, those projections were based on only about 10-15 percent of votes counted.
A spokeswoman for Sharif’s party said there were already “serious reservations” about the vote count after reports that soldiers stationed in polling stations had thrown out political parties’ monitors during the tabulations.
The party rejected the eventual results of Wednesday’s general election, alleging rigging during the counting process.
Sharif’s party has accused the powerful military for weeks of attempting to throw the election to opposition figure Imran Khan, a former cricket star and anti-corruption crusader.
Shehbaz Sharif, leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and brother of the ousted prime minister, early on Thursday rejected the counting process as results were still trickling out and no winner had been declared but projections showed a strong lead for Khan.
“We reject this result,” Shehbaz Sharif said.
Khan’s party spokesman, Fawad Chaudhry, showed confidence even before the counting was finished, saying in a tweet “Congratulations to the nation on a new Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan.”
The eventual outcome could lead to a weak coalition government at a time when Pakistan urgently needs to address a foreign currency crisis and may need to go to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a second bailout in five years.
About 106 million people were registered to vote in polls that closed at 6 p.m local time.
Khan emerged as a slight favorite in national opinion polls, but the divisive race is likely to come down to Punjab, the country’s most populous province, where Sharif’s party has clung to its lead in recent surveys.
The election will be only the second civilian transfer of power in Pakistan’s 71-year history.