Nawaz Sharif declares victory in Pakistan election
Nawaz Sharif declared victory for his centre-right party in Pakistan's landmark elections Saturday, putting him on course to form the next government as prime minister for a historic third term.
The partial, unofficial results represented a remarkable comeback for a man deposed in a 1999 military coup, after nearly 60 percent of the 86 million electorate turned out to vote, defying polling day attacks that left 24 dead.
The party of his main rival, cricket star Imran Khan, whose promises to end corruption struck a chord with middle-class and youth voters, conceded defeat but vowed to form the next provincial government in the northwest.
The historic polls mark the first time an elected civilian administration completed a full term and handed power to another through the ballot box in a country where there have been three military coups and four military rulers.
Chief Election Commissioner Fakharuddin Ebrahim said nearly 60 percent of the electorate voted, making it the highest turnout since 1977.
He praised the authorities, the military and law enforcement agencies for cooperation "which enabled us to hold free and fair elections".
Flanked by his brother Shahbaz and his daughter Maryam, a relaxed and satisfied Sharif gave a victory speech to hundreds of jubilant supporters at his centre-right Pakistan Muslim League-N party headquarters in Lahore.
"Results are still coming but there is a confirmation that PML-N will emerge as the largest party," he said.
"We should thank Allah that he has given PML-N another chance to serve you and Pakistan... I appeal for all parties to come to the table and sit with me and solve the country's problems."
Sharif struck a conciliatory tone following a high-voltage campaign that saw him clash with Khan, who was credited by analysts with inspiring the high turnout even if he lost one of the seats he contested in his hometown Lahore.
The election was fought over the country's tanking economy, an appalling energy crisis that causes power cuts of up to 20 hours a day, the alliance in the US-led war on terror, chronic corruption and the dire need for development.
It appeared that no single party would win a simple majority of 172 seats in the national assembly, raising the prospect of protracted talks to form a coalition government.
Crowds danced and sang in the gardens of the PML-N plush headquarters, Sharif's former home. Supporters posed for photos and took pictures of their children to record the moment, an AFP reporter said.
"My wish has come true, we wanted PMLN to come to power so we are very happy," salesman Mohammad Yousuf Khan, 32, told AFP.
"They will do a lot of good things that have gone wrong in the past five years. They will correct them: law and order, loadshedding (rolling blackouts), terrorism and the corruption of Raja Rental," he said, using the nickname of the outgoing prime minister, who suffered a humiliating defeat in his constituency.
Both Sharif and Khan won at least one of the seats they had contested, but Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), which had promised a "tsunami" of support sweeping him into the premiership, quickly conceded defeat.
Assad Omar, a senior PTI leader, sent his congratulations to PML-N and said Khan, who is flat on his back in hospital with a fractured spine after falling from the stage of a campaign rally, would react later on Sunday.
"I will say he knows how to win and how to lose, and after losing, how to come back. He is taking these results like a sportsman," Omar said.
Newly elected PTI member Shaukat Yousafzai said: "It is very clear that PTI has emerged as the largest party in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, so we will form our government here with the help of like-minded political parties."
Polling on Saturday was to elect the 342-member national assembly and four provincial assemblies in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab, Sindh and Baluchistan.
Queues formed in Pakistan's main cities where people spoke enthusiastically about exercising their democratic right, despite some nerves about security.
In Pakistan's financial hub Karachi, voting was marred by allegations of rigging from rival parties, and the election commission ordered a re-vote in 40 polling stations in one constituency over accusations of ballot stuffing.
Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islami boycotted polls in Karachi after accusing the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), which controls the city, of fraud and violence. The MQM denied the allegations.
Karachi was also the scene of the deadliest polling day attack, which saw 11 people, including a small child, killed when Taliban bombers targeted an ANP candidate, who escaped unhurt.
More than 600,000 security personnel deployed to protect the vote and Pakistan sealed its border with Afghanistan and Iran to boost security after pre-election violence killed at least 127 people, according to an AFP tally.
The outgoing centre-left PPP ran a lacklustre campaign, with its chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari too young to run and hounded by security threats.
Sharif served as prime minister from 1990-93, when he was sacked for corruption, and from 1997-99, when he was deposed by the military, although his family say he is a changed man who will this time govern more successfully.