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Three-time PM Nawaz Sharif claims win in controversial Pakistan election

The PML-N leader’s assertion came even as media reports said that independent candidates backed by jailed former prime minister Imran Khan’s PTI were leading, as counting continued.

Former prime minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif, addresses the audience at the party office of Pakistan Muslim League-N, in Lahore, Pakistan, on February 9, 2024. (Photo by Elke Scholiers/Getty Images)

By: Shubham Ghosh

IN a move that surprised many analysts and observers, Pakistan’s former prime minister Nawaz Sharif on Friday (9) claimed victory in the general elections that took place on a day before, even as several Pakistanis and human rights bodies called it neither free nor fair.

The 74-year-old three-time prime minister cited Pakistan’s election commission in saying that his Pakistan Muslim League -Nawaz (PML-N) had emerged as the party with the largest share of the votes polled in the election. He also called rival parties to come together to form a unity government.

His claim came even as several media reports said that independent candidates backed by the party of Imran Khan, another former prime minister who is currently in jail, were leading at the mid-way point of the counting process.

While Khan was disqualified from contesting the election because of criminal convictions that he said were politically motivated, his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf was barred as well.

Read: Grappling with domestic challenges, Pakistan leaders avoid anti-India rhetoric in poll 2024

The election day was marred by several militant attacks, allegations of electoral misconduct and mobile services and internet outage. The counting was also delayed by hours with the commission asking for immediate release of the results early on Friday following a wait extending more than 10 hours.

Read: Pakistan polls: Imran Khan may be jailed, but his allies running close race with Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N

The election is key since Pakistan is grappling with serious economic challenges, terrorist threats and border problems with neighbours such as India, Afghanistan and Iran.

Pramit Pal Chaudhuri, practice head for South Asia at Eurasia Group, told CNBC on Thursday that Pakistan’s latest contest for leadership is “easily one of the most blatant in terms of the degree of interference by the military”.

“Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will almost certainly win,” Chaudhuri said as the polls opened.

“But he will come in as a remarkably illegitimate government as far as the broader public is concerned.”

Sharif, who previously became the prime minister in 1990, 1997 and 2013 but failed to complete a full tenure even once, returned to the country from a self-imposed exile in the UK in 2023 after addressing a longtime fight with the country’s powerful military, which is an influential player in its politics.

Khan’s PTI, on the other hand, is the largest party in the country and had the backing of the military initially after assuming power in 2018. But soon the ties soured and many believe it was the reason why Khan, otherwise an immensely popular leader in the country, was ousted and arrested.

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