ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s army chief congratulated the country on Saturday (Feb 10) for the “successful conduct” of its national elections, saying the nation needed “stable hands” to move on from the politics of “anarchy and polarisation”.
The nuclear-armed South Asian nation voted on Thursday in a general election that remains undecided, as it struggles to recover from an economic crisis and battles militant violence in a deeply polarised political environment.
Former prime ministers Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan both declared victory on Friday.
The Chief of Army Staff of Pakistan “wishes that these elections bring in political and economic stability and prove to be the harbinger of peace and prosperity for our beloved Pakistan”, army chief Asim Munir said in a statement released by the media wing of the military.
The United States, Britain and the European Union on Friday each expressed concerns about Pakistan’s electoral process, urging a probe into reported irregularities.
British Foreign Secretary David Cameron cited “serious concerns” raising questions “about the fairness and lack of inclusivity of the elections”.
Pakistan’s foreign office countered the international criticisms on Saturday, saying they ignore the “undeniable fact” of Pakistan conducting elections successfully.
Sharif said his party had emerged as the largest and would talk to other groups to form a coalition government.
Khan, who is in jail, released an audio-visual message created with artificial intelligence, rather than being read out by his lawyers, as is usually the case.
He rejected Sharif’s claim to victory in the message on social media platform X, calling on his supporters to celebrate what he called a win achieved despite a crackdown on his party.
Independent candidates backed by Khan won the largest share in parliament, despite his imprisonment – for convictions on charges ranging from leaking state secrets to corruption to an unlawful marriage – and his party being barred from the polls.
About 100 of the winning candidates are independents, all but eight of them backed by Khan’s party, said the Free and Fair Election Network, a non-profit electoral watchdog.
Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) won 71, while the Pakistan People’s Party of Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the son of assassinated premier Benazir Bhutto, got 53.
The rest were won by small parties and other independents, with more than a dozen seats still up for grabs more than 40 hours after polling ended.