The votes are still being counted, but cricket star-turned-politician Imran Khan has declared himself the winner of Pakistan’s divisive and often violent election race as his PTI party took a decisive lead.
In a televised address to the nation Thursday, Khan laid out the huge challenges he will face as prime minister, including fixing the crumbling economy, fighting crippling debt, and dealing with the powerful military.
He also said he wanted to forge closer ties with both China and Saudi Arabia, while he wants relations with the U.S. to be mutually beneficial, not one-sided.
“I want to share the kind of Pakistan I envision ─ the type of state that was established in Medina [the Saudi Arabian city where the prophet Muhammad drew up the Constitution of Medina], where widows and the poor were taken care of," he said. “Today our state is in shambles. All our policies aim to help the less fortunate prosper.”
Khan campaigned on an anti-corruption agenda, and said he wanted to make sure Pakistan was a country where everyone could prosper. "I pledge to our people that I will introduce a system that is for the masses; all policies will be for the people and not for the elite," he said.
Despite Khan declaring victory, counting of votes continues following Wednesday’s vote. With 49 percent of polling stations returning results, Khan’s PTI party has won 120 seats in the National Assembly, compared to just 61 for its main rival, the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party of disgraced former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, who was jailed for 10 years on corruption charges after being ousted from power last year.
The electoral commission has yet to announce any official results.
PML-N, which is now led by Sharif’s brother Shahbaz, hit out at the results, saying “our democratic process has been pushed back by decades. Had the public mandate been delivered in a fair manner, we would have accepted it happily.”
But the PML-N’s objections are likely to be short-lived, as an official rejection of the result could damage the party further.
“The PML-N’s rejection of the result is probably subject to change in the coming days, particularly as a boycott of parliament or a legal challenge of the result would likely trigger defections by PML-N candidates that have won in their constituencies,” Asad Ali, a senior research analyst for IHS Markit, told VICE News in an email.
It is unclear if Khan and the PTI will have a sufficient majority to form a government on their own.
The election campaign had been overshadowed by allegations that Khan was a puppet of the country’s hugely influential military forces, allegations Khan has always denied. Khan criticized the media for portraying him as a “Bollywood villain” in the lead-up to the election.
Khan attained fame in his home country as a cricketer, and captained his country to win the World Cup in 1992. But he has been involved in politics for more than two decades, leveraging his status to found the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party in 1995.
Khan also referenced the violence that marked the election campaign.
On Wednesday a suicide bomber killed at least 31 people as they queued outside a polling station in Quetta, the largest city in the province of Balochistan, scene of much of the pre-election violence, including a bombing in the town of Mastung — also claimed by Islamic State — that killed 153 people, including local politician Siraj Raisani.
“I want to commend the people of Balochistan,” Khan said. “The type of terrorism and tragedy they have suffered from, and they still came out to vote, I want to commend them on behalf of the entire country.”
Cover image: Pakistani politician Imran Khan, chief of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, speaks to media after casting his vote at a polling station for the parliamentary elections in Islamabad, Pakistan, Wednesday, July 25, 2018. (AP Photo/Anjum Naveed)