By RFE RL
(RFE/RL) — Media are reporting that early results in Pakistan’s elections put opposition leader Imran Khan’s party substantially ahead of the current ruling party, whose leaders have already rejected the violence-scarred and delayed election results as “rigged.”
Reuters reported early on July 26 that with 30 percent of the total vote counted, Khan’s Tehrik-e Insaf party (PTI) was ahead in 113 of 272 contested National Assembly constituencies, according to the Election Commission of Pakistan.
The Associated Press reported that “early unofficial results” gave the former cricket star and his party a commanding lead over his main rival, the PML-N party of jailed former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, which has been led during the elections by his brother Shahbaz Sharif.
Early projections from four Pakistani television stations all put Khan’s party ahead, estimating it would get up to 102 of 272 elected seats available, while Sharif’s PML-N party was estimated to get between 40 and 58 seats.
Reuters reported that Sharif’s party was ahead in 66 constituencies in the early results, and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), led by the son of assassinated two-time prime minister Benazir Bhutto, led in 39 constituencies.
Elated Khan supporters danced to the beat of drums at his party headquarters in Islamabad as news of a possible victory emerged, and the sound of firecrackers could be heard in the night.
An official at the Election Commission told media early on July 26 that final results were being delayed by technical failures in an electronic reporting system. He said the tallying is now being conducted manually.
“There’s no conspiracy, nor any pressure in delay of the results. The delay is being caused because the result transmission system has collapsed,” secretary Babar Yaqoob told reporters.
He said he could not set an exact deadline when the full results would be released, but it would be as soon as possible.
Chief Election Commisioner Sardar Mohammad Raza later defended the process amid charges that the results were “rigged.”
“These elections were 100 percent transparent and fair,” Raza said. “There is no stain.”
Khan’s camp was increasingly confident of winning the election, although it still appeared likely to fall short of the 137 seats needed for a majority in the National Assembly, raising the prospect it would need to find coalition partners among smaller parties and independents.
Although Khan’s party officially held off declaring victory, party spokesman Fawad Chaudhry tweeted “Congratulations to the nation on a new Pakistan! Prime Minister Imran Khan.”
Earlier, on July 25 only hours after polls had closed amid news of early election results, Shahbaz Sharif claimed the vote had been “rigged,” citing complaints that soldiers stationed in polling stations had thrown out poll monitors from political parties during the counting.
About 371,000 soldiers were stationed at polling stations across the country during voting on July 25, nearly five times the number deployed at the last election in 2013.
“I will reject the election results,” said Sharif, who has accused the military of backing Khan to deny his party victory.
The leaders of other political parties, the PPP and the Muttahidda Qaumi Movement, also expressed concerns about irregularities during voting.
Election official Yaqoob promised that all formal complaints would be investigated.
“If there are certain polling stations where they have any complaints, we should be approached. We will take action,” Yaqoob said.
But he said he had no knowledge of widespread problems.
“We’re getting complaints that on some polling stations where certain parties are losing, their polling agents are leaving without taking the verified results,” he said.
In addition to charges of fraud, the vote was overshadowed by a suicide bombing early on July 25 which killed 31 people outside a polling station in the southwestern city of Quetta.
The elections mark only the second time in Pakistan’s 70-year history that a civilian government has completed a full term and handed over power to another civilian administration through the ballot box.
Pakistan’s military has ruled for approximately half the period since the country’s independence in 1947, staging coups three times.
Voting appeared to be heavy in major urban centers, where long lines of voters queued up. Electoral authorities turned down a request by several political groups to extend the voting deadline by one hour beyond the scheduled early evening close to accommodate the lines of voters.
Almost 106 million voters were eligible to cast ballots for the 342-member National Assembly, or the lower house of parliament, and assemblies in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab, Sindh, and Balochistan provinces.
Sixty seats in the National Assembly are reserved specifically for women, and 10 for non-Muslim minorities.
Just hours after polls opened at 8 a.m. local time, a suicide bomber struck outside a crowded polling station in Quetta, the provincial capital of Balochistan Province, killing at least 31 people and wounding 35 others.
The Islamic State (IS) extremist group claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it was carried out by a suicide bomber.
Earlier this month, IS militants claimed responsibility for a suicide attack that killed 149 people at an election rally in the town of Mastung in Balochistan.
More than 180 people, including three candidates, were killed in campaign violence since June.
At the request of the Election Commission, the largest military deployment in Pakistan’s history was sent to guard polling stations.
Michael Gahler, head of the European Union’s election monitoring mission in Pakistan, said he was looking into reports that media access was restricted by soldiers posted at polling stations.
Gahler said he will present a preliminary report on July 27 assessing the elections.
Before the vote, Pakistan’s independent Human Rights Commission said the campaign had been characterized by “blatant, aggressive, and unabashed attempts to manipulate” the outcome, with a crackdown on the media and intimidation of candidates.
Those and other allegations pointed to Pakistan’s powerful military establishment.
The PML-N, in addition to alleging rigging at the polls, has accused the army of influencing the judiciary to deny it a second term.
Former premier Sharif, a vocal critic of the army, was sentenced to 10 years in prison on corruption charges in absentia, and was arrested after returning to Pakistan on July 13. He has appealed his sentence.
Sharif has accused the army of paving the way for Khan, which the former cricket star denies.