Imran Khan's party claims victory in disputed Pakistan vote


The fieriest part of the race is expected to be between the two right-wing parties - the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) of three-time Premier Nawaz Sharif, who is now in jail following a corruption case verdict against him, and the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) led by former cricket star Imran Khan.

Pakistan watchers in the U.S. today doubted the fairness of the general election for which Imran Khan's party received the army's backing while the PML-N and the PPP ran their campaigns "under constraints".

The Pakistan Muslim League is the party of jailed ex-prime minister Nawaz Sharif.

The polling started at 8:00 a.m. local time Wednesday and continued uninterrupted up to 6:00 p.m. local time. The process of voting was temporarily halted at a station in Upper Dir's NA-5 constituency after alleged rigging, in Larkana's NA-200 and PS-11 constituencies after an explosion.

Results were delayed because the agency's results transmission system - in use for the first time in Pakistan - broke down due to pressure overloads, he said in a separate press briefing.

Jailed former premier Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) trailed with 61 seats and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) led in 40, with the other rest split among smaller parties.

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With 47 percent of the nationwide polling stations counted, Khan's Pakistan Tehreek Insaf (PTI, or Pakistan Movement for Justice) is winning 113 of the 272 seats up for grabs in the lower house of parliament, known as National Assembly.

In a victory speech, Mr Khan acknowledged that fixing the economy was the "greatest challenge" and he would implement wide-ranging reforms.

Mr Shehbaz Sharif, the younger brother of Nawaz, told reporters in Lahore that the PML-N rejected the election results after its officials were kicked out of polling stations.

As voting got under way on Wednesday in the south-western city of Quetta, the Baluchistan provincial capital, militants sent a suicide bomber to a crowded polling station to carry out a deadly attack that killed 31 people.

This election will mark only the second civilian transfer of power in Pakistan's 71-year history, and comes at a time when relations with on-off ally the United States are volatile.

Nawaz Sharif was disqualified from public office by the Supreme Court past year, after hearings on charges of financial misdeeds that were pushed by Khan and others. PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and PML-N president Shahbaz Sharif were trailing behind their opponents in Malakand and Swat National Assembly constituencies.

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The bombing also wounded 35 people, with several reported to be in critical condition, raising concerns the death toll could rise further, said hospital official Jaffar Kakar, a doctor.

"It is a sheer rigging".

Khan, who captained Pakistan to their World Cup cricket victory in 1992, vowed to tackle widespread corruption while building an "Islamic welfare state". In the days before Wednesday's election, leading rights activist IA Rehman called the campaign "the dirtiest" in his country's troubled journey toward sustained democracy.

Imran's ex-wife, British heiress Jemima Goldsmith, congratulated her former partner on succeeding after 22 tough years that included "humiliations, hurdles and sacrifices".

In northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, PTI appears to be the most preferred choice with 57 percent votes followed by the religious parties' alliance, MMA, and the PML-N, the surveys said.

This election has also been plagued by accusations of pre-poll rigging and manipulation leveled by some political parties against the military establishment in favor of PTI, although both military and PTI have rubbished such accusations.

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