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Imran Khan's party-backed independent candidates lead in Pakistan elections

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Islamabad: Jailed former Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan's party-backed independent candidates seemed to be gaining the upper hand after the results of the general elections started trickling in on Friday following unusual delays that led to allegations of rigging.

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Votes are still being counted in Pakistan after Thursday's general election which was marred by allegations of rigging, sporadic violence and a countrywide mobile phone shutdown.

There were dozens of parties in the fray but the main contest was among Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), whose candidates are running as independents, former three-time premier Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League (N) and Bilawal Zardari Bhutto's Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP).

A party must win 133 seats out of 265 in the National Assembly being contested to form the next government.

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Pakistan's authorities were moving at a snail's pace to announce the election results that in a surprising development showed disqualified ex-prime minister Khan's PTI supported independent candidates leading the show.

Khan, 71, a cricketer-turned-politician and the founding chairman of the PTI, is behind bars and barred from contesting.

PTI candidates are running as independents after they were not allowed to use the party symbol - a cricket bat.

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The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has so far announced 61 results of the National Assembly, showing the PTI-backed independent candidates winning 22 seats. The PPP also secured victory in 22 seats followed by the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz in 17 seats.

The ECP started updating results at a faster pace since morning after facing a barrage of criticism by the parties, especially the PTI which accused that its mandate was being stolen.

The big names who won included PML-N top leaders, including former premier Sharif who won by a big margin by getting 171,024 votes against PTI-backed independent Dr Yasmin Rashid who polled 115,043.

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His younger brother and former premier Shehbaz Sharif also won, in addition to his son Hamza Shehbaz and Sharif’s daughter Maryam Nawaz. All four family members scored victories from Lahore, their home and party’s stronghold.

PTI leader Gohar Ali Khan won NA-10 in the Buner area of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa with 110,023 votes, according to the ECP. He defeated Awami National Party candidate Abdul Rauf who came second with 30,302 votes. PTI’s former speaker National Assembly Asad Qaisar also won.

PPP leaders Asif Ali Zardari and his son party chief Bilawal were leading in their constituencies.

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The prominent losers in the elections were PTI's former leader and defence minister Pervaiz Khattak.

As far as the provincial assemblies were concerned, the ECP data showed results of 53 constituencies of the Sindh Assembly, with the PPP succeeding in 45 constituencies while independent candidates won only four constituencies.

The Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA) won two seats, and Jamaat-e-Islami and Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) one each.

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According to the results of 50 constituencies of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly, 45 PTI-backed independent candidates supported by Tehreek-e-Insaf secured victories.

In the Punjab Assembly, PML-N has won 39 seats, independent candidates have won 33 seats and Muslim League-Q has won two seats.

Similarly, the results of 6 constituencies of the Balochistan Assembly have been received so far where PML-N and Balochistan National Party (BNP) Awami have been successful in one seat each. In Balochistan, JUI-F won three seats while PPP won one seat.

Unofficial result trends being aired on the television channels showed the PTI-backed candidates having upstaged their rivals in many National and Provincial Assembly seats.

Geo News reported that it received results from 100 per cent polling stations of 101 NA constituencies, and independents backed by PTI won 47, PML-N 29 and PPP 22 seats. Other seats went to smaller parties.

The polling ended at 5 pm on Thursday but the first official result was announced 10 hours later at 3 am on Friday, irking many about the delay and giving fuel to the rumour mills to indulge speculation of foul play to manipulate the outcome.

PTI claimed that it won the elections while alleging that results were being delayed to rig the outcome.

In a statement on X from the PTI official handle, the party stated that it won more than 150 NA seats out of 265 open for contest as per the data received in Form 45s, which are the primary source of election results at the lowest level and show the votes for each candidate at each polling station.

“Copies of these forms have been collected by PTI candidates' polling agents, which show them winning by a large majority. According to independent reports, PTI has won well over 150 National Assembly seats & is in a solid position to form government in Federal, Punjab & KP (Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa), with a clear majority,” it stated.

“However, manipulation of the results in the late hours of the night is an utter disgrace & a brazen theft of the nation’s mandate. The people of Pakistan vehemently reject the rigged results. The world is watching,” it asserted.

In another statement, PTI alleged that its mandate was being stolen.

“Let the world know that the clear and overwhelming mandate of the people of Pakistan is being stolen. Despite unprecedented pre-poll rigging & oppression, there was a record, massive turnout on polling day,” it stated The party said that every independent candidate backed by it was winning by a landslide.

It also said that Returning Officers are now manipulating the results using Form 47, which is a summary of Form 45 from each polling station.

“Furthermore, there are reports of the polling agents getting abducted & forced to sign fake Form 45s,” it said.

It also referred to unspecified reports to claim that “PTI nominated candidates (were) losing suddenly in various constituencies now, after they had already won by a clear majority”.

In another statement, the party asked PML-N leader Sharif, who was the favourite to win as he was backed by the powerful Army, to concede defeat.

“Show some grace @NawazSharifMNS, accept the defeat! The people of Pakistan will never accept you. This is a golden opportunity to regain some credibility as a Democrat. Daylight robbery is going to be rejected massively by Pakistan!” it said in a statement on X.

Despite claims by the PTI, the ECP kept silent.

The PML-N has countered the PTI claim about results and said that it was winning.

“Based on data compiled in PMLN Election Cell and results already in the public domain, PMLN has emerged as the single largest political party in the National Assembly and a clear majority party in Punjab Assembly,” according to party leader Ishaq Dar.

He also said that “premature and biased speculations" must be avoided as the country awaits the official complete results from ECP.

The caretaker Interior Ministry has said that it had reviewed the media and the public’s concerns about the late processing of the results and attributed it to “lack of communication, which was the outcome of mobile services suspension taken to ensure a peaceful election process.” It said the situation was now satisfactory and results would be announced accordingly.

The long delay in the announcement of results by the ECP created a lot of confusion.

Karachi, the biggest city in Pakistan, witnessed the most confusion where the Muttahida Qaumi Movement claimed it had already won 18 out of the 22 National Assembly seats from the city but this is yet to be verified.

Their rival parties the Jamaat-e-Islami and PPP both negated the MQM claim.

Earlier, PTI chairman Barrister Gohar Khan in a statement also claimed that the PTI has won over 150 National Assembly seats and is in a position to form governments in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces. He urged the ECP to announce all results without any further delay. The excruciating delay in announcing the results pushed parties to the edge, with allegations of fraud being hurled along with demands for early results.

PML-N leader Maryam Aurangzeb said that the results are changing as they come in, stressing that preliminary results cannot be relied upon to say who's winning from a said constituency.

"We were in the lead [when] suddenly the results stopped coming in," she said while calling on the ECP to announce the results as soon as possible.

Separately, the estranged PML-N leader and ex-premier Shahid Khaqan Abbasi said that the “people of Pakistan have spoken” and warned that any attempt to “manipulate their mandate will result in unsustainable chaos”.

“The heat of the electoral process has passed; it is time to allow the country to heal…The political leadership — Mian Nawaz Sharif, Asif Ali Zardari, Imran Khan, Maulana Fazlur Rehman and others — must rise above petty politics and work together to confront the immense challenges our country is facing; they need to recognise that history is not kind to selfish politicians,” he urged.

The cellphone and internet services suspended before elections were gradually restored during the night.

In total 266 National Assembly seats were up for grabs in Thursday's election out of 336, but polling was postponed on at least one seat after a candidate was killed in a gun attack in Bajaur.

Another 60 seats are reserved for women and 10 for minorities and are allotted to the winning parties based on proportional representation.

Another 593 seats of the four provincial assemblies, out of a total 749, were also open for contest but the ECP delayed polls on at least three seats, two in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and one in Punjab, after two candidates died and one was killed.

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