Pakistan votes after bitter campaign marred by violence

Imran Khan

Former cricket star Imran Khan has declared victory in Pakistan's general election, as a partial count gave him a big lead, but final results were delayed and opponents alleged vote rigging.

Khan, who aspires to be the country's next prime minister, said in a televised address to the nation on Thursday that "thanks to God, we won and we were successful".

The vote is meant to be a rare democratic transition of power in the nuclear-armed country which has been ruled by the powerful military for roughly half its history. The results had been expected by 2 a.m. local time.

"My candidates complaining polling agents have been thrown out of polling stations across the country", he said in a tweet. Polling schemes were poorly rationalised, with many voters in the Lahore Cantonment, for instance, indicating they did not know where to go to vote.

The vote counting has faced a plethora of delays as well as accusations of vote rigging.

Sharif, who was immediately placed in custody after returning from Britain almost two weeks ago, has denounced the verdict as politically motivated and accused a covert military-judiciary alliance of trying to keep him out of politics and undermining the integrity of his PML-N party.

Former chairman of the senate termed the delay in the release of ECP's official election results as "suspicious" and stated: "I do not agree with Election Commission's stand about the new system working".

The country seemed to head for a hung National Assembly late on Wednesday, as the leads from counting centres showed no party getting a clear-cut majority.

In a victory speech, Mr Khan acknowledged that fixing the economy was the "greatest challenge" and he would implement wide-ranging reforms.

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The victor will face a crumbling economy and bloodshed by militants, who sent a suicide bomber to a crowded polling station in the south-western city of Quetta to carry out a deadly attack that killed 31 people.

Over 3.7 lakh troops have been deployed across Pakistan for Wednesday's General Election, the largest military deployment on a polling day in the nation's history, amid concerns over the powerful army's interference after it was granted magisterial powers. Nawaz Sharif was ousted from power a year ago and jailed over a corruption conviction days before the vote, removing Khan's most risky rival.

Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party has inched ahead of PML-N in recent national polls, but even if it gets the most votes, it will likely struggle to win a majority, raising the prospect of weeks of haggling to form a messy coalition government. Sharif's PML (N) is second with 64 seats, while the youngest candidate, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari comes in third with 38 seats.

"I anticipate the debate over rigging will occupy the political elite for some time", she said.

"The way the people's mandate has blatantly been insulted, it is intolerable", he said.

Faisal said that the position of any leading party must be accepted in the wake of the election results. One, a shopkeeper named Raees Ahmed, said, "He could have easily lived in London, but he came for us, for democracy and for civilian supremacy".

For months, the PML-N has been accusing the military of covertly helping Khan's election campaign, charges both Khan and the military have strongly denied.

Khan is campaigning on populist promises to build a "New Pakistan", vowing to eradicate corruption, clean up the environment and construct an "Islamic welfare" state.

The attack in Quetta, the provincial capital of Baluchistan, also wounded 35 people and several were reported to be in critical condition, according to hospital doctor Jaffar Kakar.

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