Islamabad: Pakistan was gripped by electoral chaos on Thursday with the outgoing ruling party denouncing "blatant rigging" in the pivotal general election and rejecting unofficial, partial results suggesting a victory for former cricket champion Imran Khan.
Results were still being tallied Thursday, hours after Khan's supporters took to the streets to celebrate victory in an election opponents have said the powerful military rigged in his favour.
While congratulatory wishes poured in for Pakistan’s cricket-turned-politician, Jemima Goldsmith, the first wife of Imran Khan also wished her former husband on Twitter who she was married to between 1995 and 2004.
22 years later, after humiliations, hurdles and sacrifices, my sons’ father is Pakistan’s next PM. It’s an incredible lesson in tenacity, belief & refusal to accept defeat. The challenge now is to remember why he entered politics in the 1st place. Congratulations @ImranKhanPTI— Jemima Goldsmith (@Jemima_Khan) July 26, 2018
She also recalled her experience when Imran contested his first election during 1997.
I remember IK’s 1st election in 1997- untested, idealistic & politically naive. I waited up for the call in LHR with 3 mo old Sulaiman, who I had lugged around the country. Eventually he called. “It’s a clean sweep" & after my gasp, “… the other way.” He roared with laughter— Jemima Goldsmith (@Jemima_Khan) July 26, 2018
Local media said roughly half the votes had been counted more than 17 hours after polls closed, an unprecedented delay that has fuelled widespread fears over the legitimacy of the exercise.
But newspapers and television channels were predicting victory for Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, with the partial results giving him at least 100 seats so far in the National Assembly, the lower house.
A majority of 137 seats is needed to form a government.
The English-language Dawn newspaper declared Khan had delivered a "knockout punch". The outgoing Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, meanwhile, "was faced with its toughest hour and ... on the verge of collapse," the paper said in a front-page analysis.
The Election Commission of Pakistan dismissed allegations of manipulation, blaming the delay on glitches in new, untested counting software.
"These elections were 100 percent fair and transparent," said Chief Election Commissioner Sardar Muhammad Raza early Thursday as the outcry grew.
Raza did not say when election authorities would be in a position to announce the results, but some media reports suggested it would not be until Thursday evening.
Late Wednesday, the PML-N, which had been in power since 2013, rejected the results because of "outright rigging", and vowed it would use "all political and legal options for redressal of these glaring excesses".
"What they have done has pushed Pakistan back 30 years... People will not bear it," the party's leader Shahbaz Sharif, brother of jailed former premier Nawaz Sharif, said.
Other major parties also alleged fraud, including the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), whose chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari echoed the PML-N's claim that party representatives were barred from monitoring the count.
The size of Khan's lead against the once-mighty PML-N, when many analysts had predicted a coalition would be likely, was also increasing concern over the process, analysts said.
"The surprisingly high seat total for PTI, even as the votes continue to be counted, will be enough to trigger the suspicions of the PPP and PMLN," said Michael Kugelman, an analyst at the Wilson Center in Washington.
Neither Khan nor the military, which had been accused of seeking to manipulate the vote in his favour in the months leading up to the polls, have yet commented on the situation. Both have previously denied allegations of intervention.
The controversy follows a campaign already considered by some observers to be one of the "dirtiest" in Pakistan's history because of the allegations against the military, and marked by the increased visibility of extremist religious parties.