Rightist party sweeps elections in Pakistan

By LUBNA JERAR NAQVI, written for UPI.com  |  May 12, 2013 at 12:00 AM
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KARACHI, Pakistan, May 12 (UPI Next) -- The right-leaning party of former premier Nawaz Sharif emerged Sunday as the outright winner of Pakistan's landmark elections.

The Pakistan Muslim League–Nawaz (PML-N), on a breathtaking comeback since being overthrown in a coup 14 years ago, has secured 127 seats in the 272-seat national assembly, according to preliminary results issued by the national election commission. “We need 137 seats to form a single-handed government," PML-N senator Pervaiz Rasheed told UPI Next. "We and our allies have managed to win that number of seats."

Several of the 31 independents who have won seats are expected to side with PML-N, and analysts expect the party to pick up one or two more seats.

The party of sportsman turned politician Imran Khan, Tehreek-e-Insaf, has secured the second highest number of votes, winning 34 seats and cementing its place as the new force in Pakistan politics. The outgoing Pakistan People's Party (PPP) of slain ex-premier Benazir Bhutto was soundly rejected by voters after five years in government, winning only 32 seats.

“The PPP, once the most popular party, has lost these elections due to its bad governance and its absence from election campaign in the face of threats by the Tehreek-e-Taliban,” political analyst Wajahat Masood told UPI Next.

The Pakistani Taliban had vowed to attack candidates from three main secular parties including the PPP, the Awami National Party and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement. Sharif's victory represents the pinnacle of a slow climb back to power for the two-time former premier, who was overthrown in a coup led by then army chief General Pervez Musharraf. The ex-general is presently under house arrest and facing treason charges.

Sharif was arrested in the 1999 coup then expelled from the country and spent almost 10 years in exile, only returning ahead of the previous 2008 elections.

Addressing supporters in his home city of Lahore, Sharif urged cooperation among Pakistan's "political forces".

“I invite all political forces to the table. Let’s work together for the betterment of the country,” he said. Despite the deadly violence that dominated the pre-election campaign, blamed on Taliban militants who had vowed to attack and disrupt the polls, voters were defiant. Around 60 per cent of 86 million registered voters turned out to cast their ballots.

“We have succeeded in conducting free and fair election with a turnout of 60 per cent, a rate higher than previous elections,” election commissioner Fakharud Din G Ibrahim told reporters on Sunday.

The secular Awami National Party, a major target of Taliban attacks during the campaign, suffered huge electoral losses and failed to win a single seat in the national parliament.

Several of its activists were killed in a bomb attack on one of its offices in commercial hub Karachi an hour after voting began Saturday.

Saturday's elections represented the first democratic transfer of power from one civilian elected government to another in Pakistan's coup-filled 66-year history.

Final results are expected to be announced late Sunday in Pakistan.

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