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Pakistani election winner Nawaz Sharif was in talks Sunday to form a new government, with fixing the shattered economy and tackling Islamist militancy likely to be his two biggest challenges.
Partial, unofficial results from Saturday's election represented a stunning comeback for the wealthy 63-year-old tycoon who was deposed as prime minister in a 1999 military coup and spent years in jail and exile.
Sharif appears to have done well enough to rule out the prospect of a weak coalition, as the party of former cricket star Imran Khan achieved its own breakthrough on an anti-corruption platform that resonated with younger voters.
Khan's party also looked set to take over the provincial government in the restive northwest, where he has vowed to end US drone strikes.
Taliban violence marred the election campaign with attacks killing more than 150 people, including 24 on polling day itself.
It remains unclear whether Sharif will preside over any substantive policy change in the war on militants. While he has voiced support for peace talks with the Taliban, he has been less vocal against US drone strikes than his main rival Imran Khan, and is considered a pragmatist with whom Washington can work.
India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh congratulated Sharif on his "emphatic victory" and wrote on his official Twitter page that he hoped to chart "a new course for the relationship" between the nuclear-armed neighbours.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai Sunday called on Sharif's incoming government to help negotiate an end to the Taliban insurgency that has ravaged his country since 2001. Pakistan suffers from its own home-grown Taliban insurgency.
Pakistan, which has had three coups and four military rulers, is marking the first time that one elected civilian administration will hand power to another after a full term in office.
TV projections suggested no single party would win an absolute majority in the 342-seat national assembly.
But Sharif's centre-right Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) was well ahead with more than 115 of the chamber's 272 directly elected seats, according to various projections by private channels and as many as 128, according to Geo TV.
Sartaj Aziz, a senior PML-N official and former cabinet minister, said Sharif was in talks Sunday with some independent MPs to get them on board and in discussions to work out "a few key portfolios" in the cabinet.
The election was defined by the tanking economy, an energy crisis that causes power cuts of up to 20 hours a day, the unpopular alliance in the US-led "war on terror" and chronic corruption.
Sharif has vowed a pro-business agenda to revive the feeble economy for what will be his third term as prime minister, a record in Pakistan, following two tenures in the 1990s.
Asked how his time in prison and exile had changed him, Aziz said it had "matured him and "made him more thoughtful".
Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) was neck and neck with the outgoing Pakistan People's Party on around 30 to 25 seats, a remarkable achievement given that it only won one seat previously, in 2002.
Besides the national assembly, voters also elected four provincial assemblies and Khan's party emerged on top in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, putting PTI on track to form a government on the frontline of the war against the Taliban.
Khan welcomed the high turnout as a step forward for democracy but alleged vote-rigging in a televised statement from the hospital bed where he is laid up with a fractured spine following a fall at an election rally last week.
"They placed election staff and administration officials for rigging at various places. Rigging was done in Punjab, in Karachi it was visible to everyone and in Sindh also," he said.
Khan declared he would go into opposition and said that if his party forms a government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, they would turn it into a "model province".
"I want to assure that the change has come in Pakistan, whatever others say. The foundation of a new Pakistan has been laid," he said.
The Bhutto clan's PPP, which led the outgoing coalition, was heavily defeated over its record of ineffectual administration over the past five years.
Flanked by his brother and daughter, Sharif gave a victory speech late Saturday to hundreds of jubilant supporters at PML-N headquarters in Lahore.
"We should thank Allah that he has given PML-N another chance to serve you and Pakistan," he said, after nearly 60 percent of the 86 million electorate.
"I appeal for all parties to come to the table and sit with me and solve the country's problems," Sharif said.
Pakistan's largest domestic observer mission, The Free and Fair Election Network, said Sunday that the polls were "relatively fair" despite some irregularities and violence at the polling stations.
Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif appealed to all parties to join him in tackling Pakistan's mountainous problems after securing victory in historic elections that defied Taliban violence.
Partial, unofficial results from Saturday's election represented a stunning comeback for a man deposed in a 1999 military coup -- but he looked short of an outright majority, raising the prospect of another weak coalition government.
The party of former cricket star Imran Khan -- whose promises to end corruption resonated with middle-class and youth voters -- conceded defeat but vowed to form the next provincial government in the restive northwest, where Khan has vowed to end US drone strikes.
The landmark polls mark the first time an elected civilian administration completed a full term to hand power to another through the ballot box, in a country where there have been three military coups and four military rulers.
Official results were emerging only slowly early on Sunday but TV projections suggested no single party would win a simple majority of 172 seats in the national assembly.
According to the private TV network Geo, Sharif's centre-right Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) was leading the race with 126 seats and Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) had 34.
With just 32 seats so far, the Bhutto clan's Pakistan People's Party (PPP) -- which led the outgoing government with 125 seats in the old national assembly -- was relegated to a humiliating third place.
Flanked by his brother Shahbaz and his daughter Maryam, Sharif gave a victory speech late Saturday to hundreds of jubilant supporters at PML-N headquarters in Lahore.
"We should thank Allah that he has given PML-N another chance to serve you and Pakistan," he said, after nearly 60 percent of the 86 million electorate turned out to vote despite polling day attacks by the Taliban that left 24 dead.
Sharif, who has vowed a pro-business agenda to revive Pakistan's crippled economy, struck a conciliatory tone following Khan's high-voltage campaign.
"I appeal for all parties to come to the table and sit with me and solve the country's problems," Sharif said.
The election was fought over the 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" and chronic corruption.
Prime minister twice before in the 1990s, Sharif's historic third term will begin only after he brokers a deal with political rivals to form a coalition.
But his supporters hailed a new day for the nuclear-armed country. Youths in Lahore danced in the streets holding stuffed tigers -- the PML-N's election symbol -- and people offered sweets to celebrate the win.
Political analysts said the result would most likely be a hung parliament in which the PML-N would have to team up with its former opponents from the outgoing government led by the PPP.
"(Sharif) needs to solve the issue of terrorism and other problems crippling the economy. If he delivers quickly, fair enough, if not then he will face crisis and criticism," pundit Hasan Askari told AFP.
Chief Election Commissioner Fakharuddin Ebrahim praised the authorities for their cooperation "which enabled us to hold free and fair elections" and recorded a turnout of nearly 60 percent, the highest since 1977.
Both Sharif and Khan won at least one of the seats they had contested, but the PTI, which had promised a "tsunami" of support, quickly conceded defeat.
Asad Omar, a senior PTI leader, sent his congratulations to Sharif's party and said Khan, who is in hospital after falling from a makeshift lift during a campaign rally, was taking the results like a sportsman.
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."
Besides the 342-member national assembly, voters also elected four provincial assemblies in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab, Sindh and Baluchistan.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is a hotbed of militancy. Both Sharif and Khan have vowed to talk to the Taliban and have tapped into the Pakistani public's deep hatred of the US drone war against extremists on the Afghan border.
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.
BLOODY ELECTION DAY
A string of bomb blasts marred election day, with one attack on a party office in the southern city of Karachi killing 11 people and wounding about 40.
Pakistan's Taliban, which is close to al Qaeda, has killed more than 125 people in election-related violence since April. The group, which is fighting to topple the US-backed government, regards the poll as un-Islamic.
Despite Pakistan's history of coups, the army stayed out of politics during the five years of the last government and threw its support behind Saturday's election.
It still sets foreign and security policy and will steer the thorny relationship with Washington as NATO troops withdraw from neighbouring Afghanistan in 2014.
However, some fear the military could step back in if there were a repeat of the incompetence and corruption that frustrated many Pakistanis during the last government.
Sharif, who was toppled in a 1999 bloodless coup by former army chief Pervez Musharraf, has said generals have no place in politics.
He may also take steps to improve ties with Pakistan's arch-enemy, India. Efforts to boost trade between the neighbours have stalled due to suspicion on both sides.
If Sharif is forced into a coalition he may look to Islamist parties to cobble together a majority in parliament.
On top of the 272 contested seats, a further 70 - most reserved for women and members of non-Muslim minorities - are allocated to parties on the basis of their performance in the constituencies. To have a majority of the total of 342, the government would need 172 seats. (Reuters)
PML(N) candidates are leading in 122 National Assembly constituencies, PPPP in 34, PTI in 33, independent in 26, JUI in 13, MQM in 11, and Jamat-e-Islami in 3.
PML (N) leads in Punjab and PTI in Khyber Pakhtun Khawah.
NA-126, Lahore. Shafqat Mahmood of PTI wins against Khawaja Ahmed Ahsan.
NA-15 Karak, Nasir Khan of PTI wins.
NA-122, Lahore. Sardar Ayaz Sadiq unexpectedly beats Imran Khan.
NA-168, Vehari. Syed Sajid Mehdi of PML(N) is the winner.
NA-11, Mardan. Mujahid Ali of PTI wins.
NA124-Sheikh Rohail Asghar of PML(N) wins.
NA-110 Sialkot, Khawaja Asif of PML (N) wins.
NA-182, Layyah. PML(N)’s Saqlain Bukhari declared winner.
NA-134, Sheikhupura. PML (N)’s Irfan Dogar wins.
NA-116, Narowal. Danial Aziz of PML (N) wins.
NA-70, Khushab. Shakir Bashir of PML(N) wins.
NA-29, Sawat. Murad Saeed of PTI beats Maulana Nizam Uddin of JUI (F)
NA-30. Saleem Rahman of PTI beats Ameer maqam of PML (N).
NA-214 Nawab Shah, Syed Ghulam Mustafa Shah wins.
NA-143 Okara, Ch. Nadeem Abbas of PML(N) won, beat PML(Q)'s Rai Mohammed Aslam
NA-16-Hangu, Haji Khayal Zaman of PTI wins.
NA-207 Larkana. Faryal Talpur of PPP wins.
NA-246-Karachi. Nabeel Ahmed Gabool of MQM wins.
NA25-Badeen. Dr. Fahmida Mirza of PPPP wins.
NA99-Gujranwal. Ranaj Umer of PML(N) wins.
NA68-Sargodha. Nawaz Sharif wins.
NA1-Peshawar. Imran Khan is the winner.
Election Commission of Pakistan chief says the turnout was around 60 per cent.
PML(N) will form government in National Assembly, Nawaz Sharif is next prime minister, says Shahbaz Sharif.
Nawaz Sharif urges his supporters to pray that PML(N) gets majority seats and be able to make government independently so that no one can blackmail the government.
NA69-Khushab. Sumaira Malik of PML(N) leading
NA125-Lahore. Hamid of PTI is winning against Khawaja Saad Rafique of PML(N).
NA249-Karachi. Farooq Sattar of MQM is leading.
NA-225-Badeen. National Assembly ex-speaker Fahmida Miraz is leading
In Lahore, PML-N is leading in 11 out of 12 seats. PTI is leading in one seat where Imran Khan is contesting elections.
NA1-Peshawar. Railway Ex-Minister Ghulam Ahmed Baloor accepts defeat against Imran Khan.
NA231-Jamshoro, Malik Asad Sikandar of PPPP is leading.
NA-97-Gujranwala.Chaudhry Mahmood of PML(N) is winning.
NA237-Thatha. Riaz Shah, an independent candidate, is leading. Sadiq Ali of PPPP is the runner-up.
NA-72-Mianwali. Amjad Ali of PTI is ahead of rivals.
NA-140-Kasur- Azimud Din of PML(Q) is leading.
NA-55-Rawalpindi. Sheikh Rashid enjoys marginal lead.
NA-4-Peshawar. Moosa Khan of PML(N) is winning.
NA54- Rawalpindi. Sheikh Rashid Ahmed winning with a big margin.
NA124- Sh. Sohail Asghar of PML(N) is winning against walid Iqbal of PTI.
NA154-Lodhran. Jahangir Tareen of PTI is leading.
NA72-Mianwali. Amjad Ali Khan of PTI is leading with a big margin.
NA219-Hyderabad. Khalid Maqbool of MQM is leading.
NA120-Lahore. Nawaz Sharif extends lead against PTI candidate.
NA2-Peshawar. Engineer Hamidul Haq of PTI is winning.
NA159-Khanewal. Ch. Iftikhar Nazir of PML(N) is leading.
NA224-Sardar Kamal Khan of PPPP is leading with 2,500 votes.
NA30-Sawat. Salim Rahman of PTI is winning.
NA171-DG Khan. Khawaja Sheraz of PPPP is winning against Amjed Farooq of PML(N).
NA-101 Gujranwala. PML(N) candidate justice Iftikhar is leading.
PS29-Khairpur. Qaim ali Shah is losing to Syed Ghaus Ali Shah.
NA61-Chakwa. PML (N) candidate Sardar Mumtaz is ahead of Ch. Parvez Elahi.
NA-5-Nowshehra. Parvez Khattak of PTI is winning.
NA68-Sargodha. Nawaz Sharif leading with 8,000 votes.
NA129- Shahbaz Sharif is ahead of PTI candidate.
NA56-Sheikh Rashid is losing, according to inital results.
NA53-Ghulam Sarwar Khan of PTI is winning against Ch. Nisar Ali of PML(N).
NA25-DI Khan. Maulana Fazalur Rahman is winning. PPPP candidate is the runner-up.
NA4-Peshawar. Nasir Khan Moosa of PML(N) is winning.
NA56-Rawalpindi. Imran Khan leading against Mohammed Hanif Abbasi.
NA71-Mianwali. Imran Khan extending lead against Khan Shadi Khail of PML(N).
NA195-Rahimd Yar Khan. Makhdoom Syed Mustafa of PPP is leading. PTI candidate is runner-up.
NA148-Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi of PTI is losing to PML(N) candidate Malik Abdul Ghufar.
NA1-Peshawar. Imran Khan extending lead against Ghulam Ahmed Baloor of ANP.
NA17-Azhar Jadoon of PTI is winning, PML(N) candidate Sardar Mehtab is the runner-up.
NA154-Lodhran. PTI's Jahangir Tareen is leading.
NA156-KJhanewal. Independent Candidate Raza Hayat Hiraj is winning against Syed Fakhar Imam of PML(N).
NA48-Islamabad. Makhdoom Javed Hashimi is leading
NA61-Chakwal. Ch. Parvez Elahi is losing to PML(N) Sardar Mumtaz.
NA59-Sahid Khaqan Abbasi of PML(N) is ahead of PTI's Sadaqat Ali Abbasi.
NA-222-Tandu Mohammed Khan-Hyderabbad. Syed Naveed Qamar of PPPP is losing against Sajad Jan of PML(F).
NA-99--Gujranwala. Rana Umer of PML(N) is leading.
NA199-Sakhar-Shikarpur. Syed Khushid Shah of PPPP is leading.
NA-7-Charsdah. Asfar Yar Wali of ANP is losing against an indepedent candidate.
NA114-Sialkot. Zahid Hamid Khan of PTI is leading.
NA171- Dera Ghazi Khan. Khawaja Sheraz of PPPP is ahead.
NA-178- Jamshed Dasti - an independent candidate - is leading. Dasti was earlier disqualified for fake degree.
NA162=Sahiwal. Rai Hasan Nawaz of PTI is leading, Independent candidate is the runner-up.
NA176-Muzaffar Garh: Ghulam Mustafa Khar is leading.
NA51-Rawalpindi. Raja Javed of PML(N) is ahead of former prime minister Raja Parvez Ashraf
NA232-Dadu. Rafiq Ahmed Jamali of PPPP is ahead of PML's(N) Karim Ali Jatoi.
NA196-Rahim Yar Khan. Javed Iqbal Warraih of PPP is leading.
NA269-Khazdar. Abdulrauf Mangal of BNP is leading. Maulvi Qamarud Din of JUI(F) is the runner-up.
NA199-Sakhar. Syed Khurshid Shah of PPP is leading. PML(F) candidate is runner-up.
NA117-Narowal. Ahsan Iqbal of PML(N) is ahead of PTI's Abrarul Haq.
NA21-Mansehra; Captain Mohammed Safdar of PML(N) is leading.Captain Safdar is the son-in-law of Nawaz Sharif.
NA119-Lahore, Hamza Shahbaz Sharif of PML(N) is leading. PTI's Mohammed Madni is runner-up.
NA154-Lodhran Jahangir Tareen of PTI is leading.
NA110-Sialkot; Khawaja Mohammed Asif is leading, PTI is runner-up.
NA-71-Mianwali: Imran Khan is leading.
NA111-Sialkot. Chaudhry Armaghan of PML(N) is ahead of PPPP's Firdos Ashiq Awan.
NA-7-Charsada, Asfandyar Wali is leading, PTI candidate is the runner-up.
NA-105 Gujrat: Chaudhry Parvez Elahi is leading.
NA-109; Nasir Iqbal of PML (N) is leading.
NA-53-Ghulam Sarwar of PTI is ahead of Chaudhry Nisar of PML(N).
NA48-Islamabad; PTI's Javed Hashmi is leading, J. Salik is the runner-up.
NA61-Chaudhry Parvez Elahi is leading. He is also leading in NA-105.
NA124-Sheikh Rohail Asghar of PML(N) leading in four polling stations.
NA68- Nawaz Sharif is leading
NA-120-Lahore Dr. Yasmin Rashid of PTI is now ahead of Nawaz Sharif.
NA154- Jahangir Tareen of PTI is leading, claims PTI.
NA243-Karachi- PTI leads with 16,000 votes, claims PTI.
NA55-Rawalpindi- Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, backed by PTI, takes initial lead.
NA129 Lahore: Shahbaz Sharif is leading, according to initial results.
NA25-Maulana Fazal-u-Rahman is now leading.
NA246-Karachi: Nabeel Gabool of MQM is leading
NA-2 (Peshawar): Eng. Hamid Al Haq of PTI is leading.
NA-68. Nawaz Sharif is leading in Sargodha, early results.
Voting ends across the country. The turnout was strong. Secretary Election
Imran Khan is leading in NA-1 Peshawar, NA-56 Rawalpindi, NA-122 Lahore and NA71- Mianwali, according to initial results. NA-56 is stronghold of PML-N.
NA118- PTI's Zaman is leading in Lahore.
Faryal Talpur, sister of President Asif Ali Zardari, leading in NA-207.
According to initial reports, PTI's Shah Mahmood Qureshi is ahead of Musa Gillani (PPPP) in NA-148.
PML-N is leading in NA-151 ahead of PPP.
NA-149: Makhdoom Ahmed Javed Hashemi of PTI is leading.
Voting time extended by an hour at all polling stations across the country, says Election Commission
Voting time extended in 7 Karachi areas for three hours.
There have been reports of Imran Khan's PTI going strong in Lahore - which is traditionally PML's (N) stronghold - and Islamabad.
Voting time in NA-250 in Karachi has been extended till 8pm (7pm UAE time). MQM boycotts NA-248, PS-108 and PS-109 elections.
Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf chief Imran Khan has asked Election Commission of Pakistan to extend polling time. "We are witnessing record turnout in the country's history. I request all to cast their vote," says Imran Khan. "Pakistan is witnessing a historic turnout today. We demand from ECP that voting time be extended to allow all voters to exercise their vot," Khan tweeted.
Pakistan Tehrek-e-Insaf (PTI) and Pakistan Muslim League (N) party officials in Karachi have complained of manhandling of their party workers in the city. But both parties will not boycott elections, say officials.
PML (N) chief Nawaz Sharif comes to cast his vote in Lahore. Sharif's mother, wife and brother Shahbaz Sharif have already cast their votes in Lahore.Sharif said Jamat-e-Islami should not have boycotted elections in Karachi.
Media reports said turnout in Karachi and Punjab is around 35 per cent.Turnout in Lahore and Islamabad is 40-45 per cent.
Jamat-e-Islami (JI) has decided to withdraw candidates from Karachi and Hyderabad after complaining about rigging. The party has also called a peaceful strike on May 13 against poll rigging.
JI has also been complaing of delayed start in voting began in the morning in many parts of Karachi.
Reports said that the closing time of the voting could be extended across the country as the turnout is high.
There have also been reports of rigging, fights and skirmishes at few polling stations in Multan, Sargodha and other parts of country.
Pakistan Election Commission chief has expressed concern about the rigging in Karachi. Chief election commission said ballott votes have been stolen from the polling stations in the city.
Duniya News said earlier that around 90 per cent of Pakistan Army voted in favour Imran Khan's Tehrik-e-Insaf.
Earlier in the day, Pakistanis queued up to vote in landmark elections on Saturday, defying Taliban attacks to cast their ballots in polls marking a historic democratic transition for the nuclear-armed state.
Turnout appeared enthusiastic in the capital, in Karachi, Lahore and Peshawar, but was thinner in the southwestern province of Baluchistan, AFP reporters said.
In Karachi, Pakistan's financial hub, a Taliban bomb killed 11 people and wounded 36 others, targeting a candidate for the provincial assembly for the Awami National Party, one of the secular parties in the outgoing government.
The target, Amanullah Mehsud, escaped unhurt, senior police official Mazhar Nawaz said. The Taliban quickly claimed responsibility.
"We proudly claim responsibility for this attack, we carried it out and will carry out more of the same," spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan told AFP by telephone from an undisclosed location.
Another bomb wounded eight people outside a women's polling station in Peshawar and temporarily suspended voting, police said.
Apart from the nine provincial and national assembly seats where polling has been cancelled due to the death of contestants, voting across the country began at 8am (7am UAE time) and will close at 5pm (4pm UAE time).
Election Commission of Pakistan announced that 179 million ballot papers have been distributed to 70,000 polling stations across the country.
Voters will elect 272 members of the National Assembly from more than 200 registered parties and to win a simple majority, a party would have to take 137 seats.
However, the election is complicated by the fact that a further 70 seats, most reserved for women and members of non- Muslim minorities, are allocated to parties on the basis of their performance in the contested constituencies. To have a majority of the total of 342, a party would need 172.
Fearing violence on the elections day, the interim government has deployed around 60,000 security personnel at sensitive polling stations across the country.
It’s Imran Khan vs Nawaz Sharif
Most of the political pundits believe that the race for the prime ministership is between Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf’s Imran Khan and Nawaz Sharif of PML (N).
Widespread disenchantment with the two mainstream parties appeared last week to have brought a late surge of support for former cricket star Imran Khan, who could end up holding the balance of power if there is no clear-cut winner.
The party of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif looks set to win the most seats in the one-day vote, which gets under way across the country at 8am.
However, Khan's dark-horse challenge could deprive Sharif of a majority and dash his hopes for a return to power 14 years after he was ousted in a military coup, jailed and later exiled.
Pakistan's best-known sportsman, who led a playboy lifestyle in his younger days, Khan is seen by many as a refreshing change from the dynastic politicians who long relied on a patronage system to win votes and are often accused of corruption.
Figures courtesy: Jang Group/Geo TV