Protests have broken out across Pakistan amid allegations of widespread vote-rigging targeting the former prime minister Imran Khan’s political party and other nationalist groups in the country’s general election.
The results of the election, which took place on Thursday, gave a surprise first place to Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, which won the most seats despite facing a stringent crackdown by the country’s powerful military establishment.
But with no clear majority winner, the country remained in a state of turmoil as several parties claimed they would be forming a government, and protests shut down swathes of the country.
An unprecedented wave of popularity won PTI-affiliated candidates more than 90 parliamentary seats but it is not enough to form a majority government. Khan’s party claims that the real number of seats it won is more than 150 and has alleged systematic fraud in the counting and recording of the votes. It is challenging dozens of the results in the courts.
PTI defied a months-long crackdown that hindered campaigning and forced candidates to run as independents with a combined showing that still challenged the party’s rivals.
Khan, a former cricketing star, was barred from contesting the election after being handed several lengthy prison sentences in the days leading up to the vote.
On Sunday, the party organised protests outside election commission offices in constituencies across the country where alleged rigging took place. In Lahore, hundreds of riot police gathered to break up the PTI protests and in some cases charged at groups peacefully protesting and detained them.
PTI and other smaller parties have alleged rampant military interference in the election, as has been documented in the past. They claimed seats they won – often with a large majority – were given to the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) party, which is led by Nawaz Sharif who was seen as the military’s favoured candidate, and the Pakistan People’s party (PPP), after alleged deals struck with the military establishment.
Salman Akram Raja was among the PTI leaders who lost to a candidate allegedly close to the military and who has taken his case to the court. It has suspended the result announcement until further hearings. Raja said he had won about 150,000 votes, compared with the 50,000 of his opponent, but “the rigging was brazen and naked”.
“They decided to rewrite the results,” said Raja, who accused the military of stuffing the ballot bags to fix the result. He said that the government’s shutdown of all mobile services and internet, on the pretext of security issues, had “enabled fraud”, adding: “The internet shutdown was planned to assault the entire election and rig the election across the country.”
Yet Raja said PTI was in a race against time in its disputes, as there was a two-week deadline for final candidates to be announced. Khan’s party has declared its intention to form a government, but will need to win more seats and likely enter into a coalition with smaller parties to gain the necessary majority.
It is also facing the hurdle of a coalition led by PML-N and other parties, which Sharif has publicly declared will be the next government. It was confirmed on Sunday they were in discussions with PPP as well as others in order to prevent PTI taking power.
Raja said: “The fraud was committed on such a massive level on election day that to undo that in 14 days would be very tough. It may be a very long fight and I think most of these cases will end up in the courts.”
ISPR, the media wing of the military, did not respond to requests for comment.
The US, UK and EU were among those who had expressed concerns over irregularities and interference in the election process. The results were significantly delayed and took an unprecedented three days to be fully declared. So far, the election commission has put 10 national assembly results on hold after disputes.
As allegations of vote-rigging emerged, protests also broke out in the regions of Balochistan, Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. In the restive province of Balochistan, tens of thousands of people gathered outside election commission offices to protest against vote-rigging and shut down large parts of the region.
Jan Buledi, a former spokesperson of Balochistan government and secretary general of the National party, said he had received a direct death threat from a colonel after publicly accusing the military of filling the ballot boxes with fake votes in the constituency where he was running.
Buledi claimed that thousands of votes had been registered for PPP from polling stations that had been closed down due to a security threat.
He said: “How can we accept thousands of fake votes from polling stations where not a single vote was cast? We won’t accept fake provincial parliament emerging out of stolen votes given to the PML-N and PPP.” – Guardian