Pakistan votes after bitter campaign marred by violence

Imran Khan made a televised address last night to announce himself as Pakistan’s prime minister-elect

While vote counting ─ amid allegations of fraud by PML-N and other political parties ─ has been tediously slow, preliminary results indicate that the Imran Khan-led Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) has obtained a clear edge over other parties.

But supporters of jailed former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who accuse Khan of colluding with the army, said the vote count was rigged and termed it an assault on democracy in a country that has a history of military rule.

Pakistan's next leader will urgently need to deal with a mounting economic crisis: Four currency devaluations since December have made it likely the next government will seek another International Monetary Fund bailout.

Polling in the General Election 2018 concluded at 6.00pm on Wednesday, as the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) rejected requests from major political parties of the country, including the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan People's Party (PPP), to extend the time for an hour. The results had been due by around 2 a.m. (2100 GMT on Wednesday).

Twitterati soon reacted to the video.

However, Chief Election Commissioner Sardar Mohammad Raza, strongly defended the voting process as free and fair. "There is no stain". He said he had joined politics because he wanted to make Pakistan a nation "as envisioned by Jinnah".

With 47 percent of the nationwide polling stations counted, Khan's Pakistan Tehreek Insaf (PTI, or Pakistan Movement for Justice) is winning 113 of the 272 seats up for grabs in the lower house of parliament, known as National Assembly.

If the leading party fails to gain the required number of seats, they would be forced to form a coalition to assume power.

Khan's party spokesman, Fawad Chaudhry, tweeted "Congratulations to the nation on a new Pakistan!"

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"It is unlikely that a prime minister Imran Khan will act decisively against jihadis, given his sympathy for their cause but miracles can happen", Haqqani said.

Wednesday's elections, conducted under high levels of security, were meant to be a rare democratic transition from one civilian government to another in the young, nuclear-armed country which has been ruled by the military for roughly half its history. Its former leader Nawaz was ousted from power past year and jailed over a corruption conviction days before the vote, removing Khan's most risky rival.

Pakistan watchers in the United States today doubted the fairness of the general election for which Imran Khan's party received the army's backing while the PML-N and the PPP ran their campaigns "under constraints". Some reports suggested it would not be until Thursday evening at the earliest.

The skirmish broke out as the workers were stationed outside the polling station for the 11th general elections of the country following which the process was put to a halt.

Husain Haqqani, a former Pakistan ambassador to the USA, said that the result of the election was "foretold". "The way the people's mandate has blatantly been insulted, it is intolerable", Shehbaz told a news conference as the counting continued. "Presiding officers have been asked to meet their returning officers, along with army officers assigned to their voting booths, with the results", said Yaqoob.

The military, which had been accused of seeking to manipulate the vote in Khan's favour in the months leading up to the polls, has not yet commented on the situation. "This is the warning bell of a serious threat", said PPP senator Sherry Rehman. "Those are the principles we want to work towards".

However, the PML-N claims there has been a targeted crackdown of its activities by the intelligence services, with the help of the courts. This has also affected the traditional election fervour.

Khan has promised an "Islamic welfare state" and cast his populist campaign as a battle to topple a predatory political elite hindering development in the impoverished mostly-Muslim nation of 208 million, where the illiteracy rate hovers above 40 percent. The party not only amassed over 8 million votes - second after the PML-N - in 2013 but it also managed to form a provincial government in the KP.

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