12 May 2013

Nawaz Sharif claims victory in Pakistan election

Fourteen years after being toppled by a military coup, Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif claims a triumphant comeback based on early elections results.

Residents in Islamabad on Sunday awoke to the news of the return of “the tiger”, as former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif declared victory following the country’s historic election on Saturday.

Official results have not yet been confirmed, but the Punjabi businessman has claimed victory for his Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) party.

The historic elections marked the first time in Pakistan’s 65-year history that a civilian government has completed its full term and handed over power in democratic elections. Previous governments have been toppled by military coups or sacked by presidents allied with the powerful army.

There was a huge turnout, but the election campaign and polling on Saturday was marred by violence. A bomb killed 11 people and injured 40 at the Awami National Party offices in Karachi, while several voters complained that voting was not “free and fair” at some stations.

Early counts suggest that the PML-N had won around three times as many seats as the two main rivals. However Mr Sharif’s party may not gain enough seats for a simple majority, and may still have to form a coalition government.

Winners and losers

Mr Sharif managed to hold off a strong challenge from Imran Khan, who had hoped to break decades of dominance by the PML-N and the PPP, led by the Bhutto family, with his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI, Movement for Justice) party. The two established parties have formed governments whenever the military, the most powerful force in the nuclear-armed nation, has allowed civilian rule.

Mr Khan put up a strong fight and he is likely to remain a force in politics, possibly becoming the main opposition figure.

The PPP, which led the government for the last five years, has done badly and could come in third place.

Mr Sharif, 63, from the prosperous and most populous province of Punjab, declared victory in a jubilant speech to supporters late on Saturday even as votes were still being counted. He is almost certain to become prime minister for a third time.

The religious conservative has said the army, which has ruled the country for more than half of its turbulent 66-year history, should stay out of politics. But he will still have to work with Pakistan’s generals, who set foreign and security policy.