Sixty percent of Pakistan's electorate turned out for yesterday's poll, both Gallup International and the Free and Fair Election Network reported.
With votes still coming, Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League won 114 seats in the country's 272-seat National Assembly. The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Imran Khan's Tehrik-e-Insaf (Movement for Justice) are tied with 26 seats each, and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) took 12 seats.
At least 51 people were killed in election violence, including bomb and hand grenade attacks involving the Pakistan Taliban and inter-party rivalries.
"It was a general wave which swept across the country, as people had made up their minds that they are not going to vote for the Pakistan Peoples Party, which has been involved in mega scandals of corruption," said one middle-aged voter, Rehan Aslam, outside a polling station in Lahore, the capital of Punjab province.
PML-N voters are celebrating their party's success. Lahore confectioners are running out of sweets. An end to power blackouts and unemployment are at the top of the public agenda for the incoming PML-N government.
The PML-N will have to deliver now because it is aware of how massive power load shedding has crippled the industry and businesses in Punjab province," 30-year-old Karmran Tahir Butt told UPI Next. "In the presence of the PTI as a strong opposition, the PML-N has no option but to deliver."
The Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI), led by former cricketer Imran Khan, came in second in Saturday's vote, with voting in numerous constituencies running neck to neck to neck.
PTI voters won a clear victory in Pakistan's northwest Khyber PakhtunKhawa (KPK) province, a stronghold of the Pakistan Taliban, where the party has promised to end militancy.
Khan has called for negotiations with the Taliban, a withdrawal of Pakistan's army from tribal areas and an end to U.S. drone strikes.
Ahtasham Khan, a PTI activist from Peshawar, is delighted by election results in Khyber PakhtunKhawa. "The PTI has emerged as the single largest party in the province, with a heavy mandate, and we believe that the PTI will bring peace as the party has a strong and clear stance against terrorism," Khan told UPI Next over the phone.
PTI won fewer seats in Punjab, Pakistan's most populous province, but the party made a strong showing in the country's second largest city, Lahore, where its voters are celebrating their neck-and-neck competition. The PML-N has begun speaking of a possible power-sharing deal between the two parties.
"We believe that the PTI should form a coalition government with the PML-N, as it is a need of the hour that both parties should sit together and join hands to steer the country out of present crisis," Lahore voter Aiman Khosa, aged 27, told UPI Next outside a constituency.
But political experts are skeptical about the prospects of a coalition. Speaking to UPI Next over the phone, political analyst and writer Musharraf Zaidi said the PML-N can form a government on its own. "The government formed with the alliance of many political partners cannot take forward the ideology and manifesto it promised with the people," Zaidi said.
Pakistan's status as a frontline state in the so-called "war on terror" raises the significance of yesterday's elections. PML-N Chief Nawaz Sharif says he will improve ties with India, Afghanistan and the United States. Defence analyst Lieutenant General (Ret.) Talat Masood told UPI Next that the continuation of the democratic process will boost Pakistan's image and relations with its neighbors and allies.
Saturday's elections mark Pakistan's first transition between democratically elected governments.
"A huge voter turnout, despite militant threats and deadly attacks, is a clear indication that people want peace and want their representative governments in place to defeat militancy," Masood told UPI. "Now it is the government's responsibility to formulate comprehensive and elaborate counter-insurgency policies after a consensus with all political parties and military to tackle militancy.