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Imran Khan's party-backed candidates spring surprise in Pakistan polls

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Nawaz Sharif, Imran Khan and Bilawal Zardari Bhutto

Islamabad: Jailed former premier Imran Khan's party-backed independent candidates seemed to have sprung a surprise as the results of the general elections in Pakistan started trickling in on Friday following unusual delays, leading to allegations of rigging.

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

Pakistan authorities were moving at a snail's pace on Friday to announce the election results that in a surprising development showed disqualified and jailed ex-Prime Minister Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf supported independent candidates leading the show.

Khan, 71, a cricketer-turned-politician and the founding chairman of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), is behind bars and barred from contesting.

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

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.

The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) so far officially uploaded only four results of the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP) assembly, which all were won by the PTI-backed independents. The commission has not uploaded even a single result of the National Assembly (NA) or other provinces.

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However, private media channels showed that PTI-backed candidates were in the lead.

According to the Express Tribune newspaper, PTI-Independents have won six NA seats, followed by the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) with four and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) with three.

However, BBC Urdu in its results showed that PTI-Independent and PML-N won four seats each and PPP three.

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Dawn newspaper put PML-N in the lead with four wins, followed by PTI-Ind with three and PPP 2 seats.

The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) has acknowledged a "huge" voter turnout in favour of its arch-rival PTI, however, it remains hopeful that its supremo Nawaz Sharif will get a record fourth term as the country's prime minister.

Sharif was the favourite to win the election as he was being backed by the powerful Army.

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So far among the major winners, former prime minister and PML-N president Shehbaz Sharif has won the NA 123 seat from Lahore with 63,953 votes, according to initial results.

Similarly, Balochistan National Party leader Akhtar Mengal won the election for National Assembly constituency NA-261 Surab-cum-Kalat-cum-Mastung by securing 3,404 votes.

The partial results reported by various TV channels showed that PTI-backed candidates were ahead of other parties on several seats, which led Aleema Khan, sister of Khan to announce on X: “Welcome back to 'Naya Pakistan'”.

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Earlier, PTI chairman Barrister Gohar Khan in a statement claimed that the PTI has won over 150 National Assembly seats and also 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.

Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (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.

She also claimed PML-N's Senior Vice President Maryam Nawaz's victory on the PP-159 seat for the Punjab assembly.

The ECP said in a statement that Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sikandar Sultan Raja “contacted the Chief Secretaries, DROs (district returning officer) and Provincial Election Commissioners and has issued strict instructions to ensure immediate declaration of results.” 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.

Earlier, the Returning Officers allegedly stopped issuing results to the media following an 'apparent victory' of Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf in most seats in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) provinces.

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.

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

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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