Pakistan’s ex-PM Sharif says he will seek a coalition government after trailing jailed rival Khan

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FEBRUARY 9, 2024

Pakistan’s Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, center, addresses supporters next to his brother Shehbaz Sharif, right, and daughter Maryam Nawaz following initial results of the country’s parliamentary election, in Lahore, Pakistan, Friday, Feb. 9, 2024. Sharif is changing tack and said on Friday that he will seek to form a coalition government after his party trailed the independent candidates of his rival Imran Khan in preliminary results following the country’s parliamentary election. (AP Photo/K.M. Chaudary)

LAHORE, Pakistan — The former prime minister of Pakistan expected his party would claim an easy victory in the country’s parliamentary elections, sending him to the top job for a fourth time. Instead, Nawaz Sharif faces a difficult path to power.

Supporters of imprisoned Pakistan’s Former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s party block a road as a protest against the delaying result of parliamentary election by Pakistan Election Commission, in Lahore, Pakistan, Friday, Feb. 9, 20204. Independent candidates backed by Khan’s party were leading Pakistan’s national election results, a day after sporadic violence, allegations of a preordained outcome and a cellphone service shutdown overshadowed the vote. (AP Photo/K.M. Chaudary)

Independent candidates backed by his imprisoned rival, Imran Khan, were leading in the vote count Friday, a surprisingly strong showing given assertions by Khan’s supporters and a national rights body that the balloting was manipulated to favor Sharif.

People read morning newspaper reporting the early results of parliamentary elections at a stall in Peshawar, Pakistan, Friday, Feb. 9, 2024. The results of Pakistan’s elections were delayed a day after the vote that was marred by sporadic violence, a mobile phone service shutdown and the sidelining of former Prime Minister Imran Khan and his party. (AP Photo/Muhammad Sajjad)

That scrambled the plans of Sharif — and the security establishment backing him — forcing him to announce plans Friday to try to form a coalition government.

A day earlier, Sharif had gruffly rejected the idea of a coalition, confidently telling reporters after casting his vote that he wanted a single party running Pakistan for a full five-year term.

Khan, a former cricket star turned Islamist politician with a significant grassroots following, was disqualified from running in Thursday’s election because of criminal convictions. He contends his sentences and a slew of legal cases pending against him were politically motivated.

Khan’s party’s candidates were forced to run as independents after they were barred from using the party symbol — a cricket bat — to help illiterate voters find them on ballots.

Supporters of imprisoned Pakistan’s Former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s party block a road as protest against the delaying result of parliamentary election by Pakistan Election Commission, in Peshawar, Pakistan, Friday, Feb. 9, 20204. Independent candidates backed by Khan’s party were leading Pakistan’s national election results, a day after sporadic violence, allegations of a preordained outcome and a cellphone service shutdown overshadowed the vote. (AP Photo/Muhammad Sajjad)

Despite those setbacks — and with most of the 266 National Assembly constituencies announced by the election oversight body — candidates backed by Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, or PTI, had won 99 seats. Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League party had 71 seats. The election was postponed in one constituency because of the killing of one of the candidates.

However, with a third major party in the mix, nobody could declare outright victory.

Sharif acknowledged that, telling supporters “we don’t have enough of a majority to form a government without the support of others and we invite allies to join the coalition so we can make joint efforts to pull Pakistan out of its problems.”

Malik Tariq Awan, center right, an independent candidate, celebrates with supporters after his victory in the parliamentary elections, in Peshawar, Pakistan, Friday, Feb. 9, 2024. The results of Pakistan’s elections were delayed a day after the vote that was marred by sporadic violence, a mobile phone service shutdown and the sidelining of former Prime Minister Imran Khan and his party. (AP Photo/Muhammad Sajjad)

“We will have to sit together to settle all matters,” he said.

However, Pakistan’s deeply divided political climate is unlikely to produce a strong coalition pushing for the betterment of a country grappling with high inflation, year-round energy outages and militant attacks.

The lack of a majority did not stop Sharif’s relatives and loyalists from appearing on a balcony at his party headquarters, waving to the crowds below. People threw rose petals on Sharif’s car as he arrived to address party workers.

Meanwhile, PTI chairman Gohar Khan told Pakistani news channel Geo that his party’s own count showed it securing a total of 150 seats, enough to form a government, though 169 seats are required for a majority in the 336-seat National Assembly, or lower house of parliament.

A supporters of Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’ party ‘Pakistan Muslim League-N’ holds the cutouts of his leader as he with other celebrate their party victory in the initial results of the country’s parliamentary election, in Lahore, Pakistan, Friday, Feb. 9, 2024. (AP Photo/K.M. Chaudary)

Observers had expected Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League to prevail and put him on track for a fourth term as prime minister due to the disadvantages faced by Khan’s party. Along with Khan imprisoned and facing more criminal convictions, election officials and police blocked his party from holding rallies and opening campaign offices, and its online events were blocked.

The PTI said the moves were intended to prevent them from competing and gaining momentum with voters.

Sharif said he would approach the Pakistan People’s Party of Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, the son of assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, as a coalition partner. The PPP has 53 seats. Sharif’s rivals, including Bhutto-Zardari, criticized him on the campaign trail so the coalition he seeks is apparently aimed at keeping Khan in prison and the PTI out of politics.

Police officers stand guard at the main entrance of the sports complex, where the regional office of the election commission is located to compile the country’s parliamentary elections, in Peshawar, Pakistan, Friday, Feb. 9, 2024. The results of Pakistan’s elections were delayed a day after the vote that was marred by sporadic violence, a mobile phone service shutdown and the sidelining of former Prime Minister Imran Khan and his party. (AP Photo/Muhammad Sajjad)

U.S. State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said the elections included undue restrictions on freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly.

“We condemn electoral violence, restrictions on the exercise of human rights and fundamental freedoms, including attacks on media workers, and restrictions on access to the Internet and telecommunication services, and are concerned about allegations of interference in the electoral process,” Miller said.

Supporters of Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Chairman of Pakistan People’s Party dance to celebrate their party victory in initial results of the country’s parliamentary election, in Karachi, Pakistan, Friday, Feb. 9, 2024. (AP Photo/Fareed Khan)

The European Union said it regretted the lack of a level playing field due to the inability of some political actors to contest the elections.

Television crew prepares in front of of a big screen showing the results of country’s parliamentary elections at Pakistan Election Commission headquarters, in Islamabad, Pakistan, Friday, Feb. 9, 20204. The results of Pakistan’s elections were delayed a day after the vote that was marred by sporadic violence, a mobile phone service shutdown and the sidelining of former Prime Minister Imran Khan and his party. (AP Photo/Anjum Naveed)

It called on authorities to ensure “a timely and full investigation” of all reported election irregularities.

Malik Tariq Awan, center, an independent candidate who won in the parliamentary elections, is greeted by supporters, in Peshawar, Pakistan, Friday, Feb. 9, 2024. The results of Pakistan’s elections were delayed a day after the vote that was marred by sporadic violence, a mobile phone service shutdown and the sidelining of former Prime Minister Imran Khan and his party. (AP Photo/Muhammad Sajjad)

Sporadic violence and an unprecedented nationwide cellphone service shutdown overshadowed Thursday’s voting.

A supporter walks past a poster of imprisoned leader Pakistan’s Former Prime Minister Imran Khan display at his party office, in Islamabad, Pakistan, Friday, Feb. 9, 20204. Independent candidates backed by Khan’s party were leading Pakistan’s national election results, a day after sporadic violence, allegations of a preordained outcome and a cell phone service shutdown overshadowed the vote. (AP Photo/Anjum Naveed)

Violence persisted Friday, with two people killed and six injured in the northwest district of Shangla after clashes broke out between Khan supporters protesting against vote-rigging and security forces, police official Sadique Khan said. PTI supporters also protested against vote-rigging in Peshawar city, the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

Sharif and Khan’s circumstances on election day represented a reversal of fortunes for the two men. Sharif returned to Pakistan in October after four years of self-imposed exile abroad to avoid serving prison sentences. Within weeks of his return, his convictions were overturned, leaving him free to seek a fourth term.

The ease of his comeback marked him as the preferred candidate of the security establishment, which casts itself as the ultimate arbiter of who comes to power in Pakistan and what decisions they make.

It’s parliament that chooses the prime minister. But the success of Khan-backed candidates against the odds means Sharif will have to woo all politicians with assembly seats if he wants to lead the country again.


Courtesy: AP