Pakistan cricket legend turned opposition stalwart Imran Khan claimed victory Thursday in the country's tense elections, following accusations of poll rigging by rival parties.
In a televised address to the nation on Thursday, Khan, who aspires to be the country's next prime minister, said, "We were successful and we were given a mandate."
He added: "If God wills, we will set an example."
Pakistan's election commission has not yet released official, final results but Khan has maintained a commanding lead according to projections by many television stations, though it's unclear if he will have to form a collation government.
Khan's message of a "new" Pakistan resonated with young voters in a country where 64 per cent of its 200 million people are below the age of 30, according to a United Nations report.
More than a dozen TV channels in Pakistan, based on official but partial counts, are projecting — using their own, undisclosed methodologies — that Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party is getting as many as 119 seats of the 270 National Assembly seats that were contested.
Khan's leading rival Shahbaz Sharif, who heads the Pakistan Muslim League — the party of jailed ex-prime minister Nawaz Sharif — rejected the vote, generating fears that disgruntled losers could delay the formation of the next government. Television projections give his party hardly 61 seats.
In a tweet on his official page, Sharif said, "Our democratic process has been pushed back by decades," adding, "Had the public mandate been delivered in a fair manner, we would have accepted it happily."
Complaints have also emerged from the independent Human Rights Commission, which issued a statement saying that in some places women were not allowed to vote. In other areas, it said, "Polling staff appeared to be biased toward a certain party," without naming the party. In the days before Wednesday's election, leading rights activist I.A. Rehman called the campaign "the dirtiest" in his country's troubled journey toward sustained democracy.
The election, in which Pakistanis voted for the National Assembly, the lower house of parliament and the four provincial assemblies, marked only the second time in Pakistan's 71-year history that one civilian government has handed power to another in the country of 200 million people.
Yet there have been widespread concerns during the election campaign about manipulation by the military, which has directly or indirectly ruled Pakistan for most of its existence. The military had deployed 350,000 troops at the 85,000 polling stations. In a tweet on his official account, Pakistan's military spokesman Gen. Asif Ghafoor called accusations of interference "malicious propaganda." The tweet featured a collage of pictures of Pakistanis handing flowers to military personnel at polling stations and elderly women kissing soldiers.
Baluchistan also saw the worst violence during campaigning earlier this month when a suicide bomber struck at a political rally, killing 149 people, including candidate Siraj Raisani. Another 400 were wounded. The Daesh terrorist group claimed responsibility for that attack. Baluchistan has been roiled by relentless attacks, both by the province's secessionists and Sunni militants who have killed hundreds of Shiites there.