The social gathering of the imprisoned former prime minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan, received essentially the most seats in parliamentary elections this week, delivering a powerful rebuke to the nation’s highly effective generals and throwing the political system into chaos.
Whereas navy leaders had hoped the election would put an finish to the political turmoil that has consumed the nation since Mr. Khan’s ouster in 2022, it has as a substitute plunged it into a good deeper disaster, analysts mentioned.
By no means earlier than within the nation’s historical past has a politician seen such success in an election with out the backing of the generals — a lot much less after dealing with their iron fist.
In voting on Thursday, candidates from Mr. Khan’s social gathering, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, or P.T.I., appeared to win about 97 seats within the Nationwide Meeting, the decrease home of Parliament, the nation’s election fee reported on Saturday. The navy’s most well-liked social gathering, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, or P.M.L.N., led by a three-time former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, received at the very least 73 seats, the fee mentioned. Solely seven seats had been left unaccounted for — not sufficient to alter the end result as reported by the fee.
Whereas candidates aligned with Mr. Khan had been set to be the most important group in Parliament, they nonetheless fell wanting a easy majority — setting off a race between the events of Mr. Khan and Mr. Sharif to win over different lawmakers and set up a coalition authorities.
Leaders of Mr. Khan’s social gathering additionally mentioned they deliberate court docket challenges in dozens of races that they consider had been rigged by the navy, and mentioned they might urge their followers to carry peaceable protests if the remaining outcomes weren’t launched by Sunday.
The success of Mr. Khan’s social gathering was a head-spinning upset in an election that the navy thought could be a straightforward victory for Mr. Sharif. Forward of final week’s election, Pakistan’s highly effective generals had jailed Mr. Khan, arrested candidates allied with him and intimidated his supporters to clear his social gathering from the enjoying discipline — or in order that they thought. As a substitute, the election outcomes confirmed that Mr. Khan stays a formidable power in Pakistani politics, his ouster and subsequent imprisonment.
On Friday night, Mr. Khan’s social gathering launched a victory speech utilizing a computer-generated voice to simulate that of Mr. Khan, who has been jailed since August. “I congratulate you all to your election 2024 victory. I had full confidence that you’d all come out to vote,” the A.I.-generated voice mentioned. “Your large turnout has shocked everyone.”
The success of Mr. Khan’s social gathering upended the decades-old political playbook governing Pakistan, a nuclear-armed nation of 240 million. All through these years, the navy has wielded final authority, guiding its politics behind a veil of secrecy, and civilian leaders have sometimes risen to energy solely with its assist — or been pushed from workplace by its heavy hand.
The vote additionally confirmed that Mr. Khan’s technique of preaching reform and railing towards the navy has resonated deeply with Pakistanis — notably younger individuals — who’re disillusioned with the political system. It additionally proved that his loyal base of supporters was seemingly proof against the navy’s outdated techniques for demoralizing voters, together with arresting supporters and issuing lengthy jail sentences to their political leaders days earlier than the vote.
Mr. Khan, a former cricket star turned populist politician, was sentenced to a complete of 34 years in jail after being convicted in 4 separate instances on costs that included leaking state secrets and techniques and illegal marriage, and that he has known as politically motivated.
Three of these verdicts had been issued simply days earlier than the vote — an outdated tactic utilized by the navy, analysts say. However early estimates present that round 48 % of the voters turned out for the election, in line with the Free and Honest Election Community, a company of civil society teams. Voter turnout within the nation’s previous two elections was about 50 %, the group mentioned.
The outcomes had been “each an anti-establishment vote and likewise a vote towards the established order, towards the 2 different main political events which were ruling the nation and their dynastic politics,” Zahid Hussain, an analyst based mostly in Islamabad, mentioned, referring to the navy because the institution.
With out a easy majority, most analysts consider it is going to be troublesome for Mr. Khan’s social gathering, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, or P.T.I., to kind a authorities. Some P.T.I. leaders have additionally advised that the social gathering would reasonably stay within the opposition than lead a weakened coalition authorities with Mr. Khan nonetheless behind bars.
Regardless of lagging behind within the polls, on Friday Mr. Sharif gave a victory speech in entrance of a crowd of supporters of his social gathering, P.M.L.N. He additionally invited different events to affix his in forming a coalition authorities, suggesting that such a coalition wouldn’t embrace P.T.I.
“We’re inviting everybody as we speak to rebuild this injured Pakistan and sit with us,” he mentioned in a speech in Lahore, the capital of Punjab Province.
However any coalition Mr. Sharif manages to kind will face critical political challenges. The coalition authorities led by P.M.L.N. after Mr. Khan’s ouster was deeply unpopular and broadly criticized failing to deal with an financial disaster that has battered the nation and despatched inflation to document highs.
The incoming authorities can be more likely to face a critical legitimacy disaster. The election on Thursday has additionally been criticized by some as one of many least credible within the nation’s historical past, and delays in releasing the election outcomes have led to widespread allegations that the navy tampered with the vote depend to tip the scales again in P.M.L.N.’s favor.
With P.T.I. promising bruising and prolonged court docket battles over the outcomes, it may very well be a while earlier than any social gathering manages to kind a authorities.
“We’ll pursue all authorized choices, and we’ll pursue all constitutional choices,” mentioned the P.T.I. chief, Raoof Hasan.
Zia ur-Rehman contributed reporting.