Imran Khan, Former Cricket Star, Pulls Into Lead in Pakistan’s Vote Count


LAHORE, Pakistan The party of Imran Khan, a former Pakistani cricket star, pulled firmly ahead in the early count after Wednesday’s elections, but the results were disputed by dozens of candidates who lodged complaints of vote rigging.

Mr. Khan, 65, is the country’s most dynamic politician, and many believe that Pakistan’s influential military has been helping his campaign by intimidating, blackmailing and impeding his political rivals. He has railed against the United States’ counterterrorism policy in the region.

Mr. Khan’s party was leading in 110 constituencies while the party in second place maintained a lead in 67 constituencies, according to reports by Pakistani state-run television stations, with about half of the votes counted by 3 a.m. on Thursday. The partial results were unofficial, the television station said.

That left Mr. Khan’s party still short of a majority in parliament that he needs to claim victory outright. There are 272 contested seats in Pakistan’s parliamentary system. Any party that hopes to form a majority and appoint a prime minister needs to command a coalition of least 137 seats.

Several leading politicians of the other major parties have rejected the early results, accusing election officers of counting ballots in secret and other irregularities. Many observers said it was unusual that the election commission had not completed at least some of the race results by early Thursday morning. The elections began Wednesday morning.

Mr. Khan has narrowed his own path to victory by saying that he would never form a coalition with the other leading parties, calling them corrupt and dynastic. After casting his vote in Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad, he said he would not declare himself the winner prematurely.

“I am a sportsman who has a training of 21 years in the cricket grounds,” he said. “I do not declare victory till the last ball.”

Voting proceeded smoothly in most parts of the country but in Quetta, in the southwest, 31 people were killed by a suicide bomber who attacked a polling station, raising the death toll in what has already been one of the bloodiest election seasons in the country’s history.

Several suicide bombers struck candidates and campaign events before the voting, killing more than 150 people.

This will be only the second time in Pakistan’s 70-year history that power will be transferred from one civilian government to another. Clearly that is proving more complicated than many people expected.

More Pakistani women than ever were registered to vote this time around. But in one village near Peshawar, in the north, tribal elders blocked hundreds of women from voting on Wednesday. They said the matter was simple: Women should never leave the house.

This could have been an occasion for Pakistanis to celebrate their democracy. Instead, the campaign has been marred by a series of attacks on candidates and campaign rallies, suppression of the news media, accusations of manipulation by the military and a rise in extreme Islamist candidates.

The military has ruled Pakistan, a nuclear-armed country, through various coups for nearly half the country’s history since it gained independence in 1947. Even during civilian rule, the country’s generals have wielded enormous power, setting the agenda for the country’s foreign and security policies and tolerance of extremist groups — including the Afghan Taliban in its fight against the United States-backed government in Afghanistan next door.

The leader of what had been the pre-eminent party, Nawaz Sharif, a three-time prime minister, was jailed by an anticorruption court less than two weeks before the elections.

In July 2017, Supreme Court justices ousted Mr. Sharif from office in a ruling that was widely seen as having been delivered under pressure from the army. At the same time, many members of Mr. Sharif’s party have deserted him and maybe not by choice. Evidence is mounting that the security services threatened or blackmailed them.

His party, known by its initials P.M.L.-N, now led by his brother, Shehbaz, remained in second place behind Mr. Khan’s party, the Pakistan Movement for Justice.

Source: The Newyork Times


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