• 31 killed on election day
Pakistan’s incumbent party rejected early election results today that suggested former cricket hero Imran Khan was on his way to becoming the country’s next prime minister, alleging “blatant” rigging.
Shahbaz Sharif, the leader of the Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), dismissed results from yesterday’s nationwide poll as counting was still underway.
“Today what they have done has pushed Pakistan back 30 years… We reject this result,” Sharif, the brother of Pakistan’s jailed ex-leader Nawaz Sharif, told a press conference in Lahore.
Shortly before he spoke state television said that just one fifth of the votes had been counted so far. Khan, 65, campaigned on populist promises to build a “New Pakistan” and vowed to eradicate corruption, clean up the environment and construct an “Islamic welfare” state.
But the erstwhile playboy’s bid for power was dogged by widespread accusations he is benefiting from the support of the country’s powerful security establishment. The media, activists and think tanks have decried a “silent coup” by the generals.The military has rejected the accusations.
The election has been marred by widespread allegations of pre-poll meddling by the powerful military in favour of Khan, which saw the process dubbed Pakistan’s “dirtiest election”. 31 people including five policemen and two children were killed by a suicide bomber who blew himself up in the city of Quetta.
In addition to the suicide attack in Quetta, in Balochistan province, one person died in a grenade attack in Khuzdar, and another died in a shooting between political rivals in Swabi, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. The bombing was the third attack of what has been a violent campaign.
Islamic State said it had carried out the attack. An IS-claimed attack targeting a political rally earlier this month in nearby Mastung killed at least 149 people.
As election workers sorted through massive piles of paper ballots, other parties including the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) also alleged the count was being manipulated.
“My candidates complaining polling agents have been thrown out of polling stations across the country,” tweeted PPP leader Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, adding: “Inexcusable & outrageous”.
In a WhatsApp message, the PML-N also claimed that security forces had taken over polling stations. The Election Commission’s secretary Babar Yaqoob earlier flatly denied allegations of vote count manipulation.
With the count still a long way to go, PTI supporters were already celebrating in cities across the country, including Lahore, Islamabad, Multan and Rawalpindi, with fireworks, dancing and reports of celebratory gunshots.
“Imran is honest. He is a cool leader,” first-time voter Ammar Haider, 20, told AFP at a street celebration in Islamabad. The rigging allegations came after a suicide bombing in the southwestern city of Quetta, claimed by the Islamic State (IS) group, killed at least 31 people and cast a shadow over voting day. Local officials said when the bomber tried to enter a polling station police stopped him, and he blew himself up.