Jailed ex-Pakistan premier Imran Khan's party-backed independent candidates on Friday sprung a surprise by winning 86 seats out of the 201 results declared following unusual delays and allegations of rigging, as the country appeared heading towards a hung assembly.
Votes are still being counted after Thursday's general election which was marred by allegations of rigging, sporadic violence and a countrywide mobile phone shutdown.
There were dozens of parties in the fray but the main contest was among Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), whose candidates are running as independents, former three-time premier Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Bilawal Bhutto Zardari's Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP).
To form a government, a party must win 133 seats out of 265 in the National Assembly. Election to one seat was postponed after the death of a candidate.
Overall, 169 seats are needed to secure a simple majority out of its total 336 seats, which include the reserved slots for women and minorities.
The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) data shows that results of 201 constituencies have been declared, which include 86 independents (mostly supported by PTI), PML-N 59, PPP 44 and 12 seats going to smaller parties.
Authorities were earlier moving at a snail's pace to announce the election results that in a surprising development showed Khan's PTI supported independent candidates leading the show.
The ECP started updating results at a faster pace after facing a barrage of criticism by the parties, especially the PTI which accused that its mandate was being stolen.
Khan, 71, a cricketer-turned-politician and the founding chairman of the PTI, is behind bars and barred from contesting. PTI candidates are running as independents after they were not allowed to use the party symbol - a cricket 'bat'.
PTI chairman Barrister Gohar Khan on Friday ruled out forging an alliance with the PPP and PML-N, saying his party is in a position to form a federal government on its own.
He claimed that his party was winning 150 National Assembly seats and would be able to achieve the required number of seats to form government at the Centre.
"We are not intending to form a coalition government with PPP and PML-N," he said. "We will form the government at the Centre and Punjab,” said Gohar Khan, who won NA-10 in the Buner area of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. PTI's former parliament speaker Asad Qaisar also won.
The big names who won included PML-N top leaders, including former premier Sharif who won by a big margin by getting 171,024 votes against PTI-backed independent Dr Yasmin Rashid who polled 115,043 in Lahore.
His younger brother and former premier Shehbaz Sharif also won, in addition to his son Hamza Shehbaz and Sharif's daughter Maryam Nawaz. All four family members scored victories from Lahore, their home and party's stronghold.
PPP leaders Asif Ali Zardari and his son party chief Bilawal were leading in their constituencies.
The prominent losers in the elections were PTI's former leader and defence minister Pervaiz Khattak.
As far as the provincial assemblies were concerned, the ECP data showed results of 53 constituencies of the Sindh Assembly, with the PPP succeeding in 45 constituencies while independent candidates won only four constituencies.
The Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA) won two seats, and Jamaat-e-Islami and Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) one each.
According to the results of 50 constituencies of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly, 45 PTI-backed independent candidates secured victories.
In the Punjab Assembly, PML-N has won 39 seats, independent candidates have won 33 seats and Muslim League-Q has won two seats.
Similarly, the results of 6 constituencies of the Balochistan Assembly have been received so far where PML-N and Balochistan National Party (BNP) Awami have been successful in one seat each. In Balochistan, JUI-F won three seats while PPP won one seat.
Unofficial result trends being aired on the television channels showed the PTI-backed candidates having upstaged their rivals in many National and Provincial Assembly seats.
The polling ended at 5 pm on Thursday but the first official result was announced 10 hours later at 3 am on Friday, irking many about the delay and giving fuel to the rumour mills to indulge speculation of foul play to manipulate the outcome.
PTI claimed that it won the elections while alleging that results were being delayed to rig the outcome.
In a statement on X from the PTI official handle, the party stated that it won more than 150 NA seats out of 265 open for contest as per the data received in Form 45s, which are the primary source of election results at the lowest level and show the votes for each candidate at each polling station.
In another statement, PTI alleged that its mandate was being stolen.
“Let the world know that the clear and overwhelming mandate of the people of Pakistan is being stolen. Despite unprecedented pre-poll rigging & oppression, there was a record, massive turnout on polling day,” it stated.
It also referred to unspecified reports to claim that “PTI nominated candidates (were) losing suddenly in various constituencies now, after they had already won by a clear majority”.
In a separate statement, the party asked PML-N leader Sharif, who was the favourite to win as he was backed by the powerful Army, to concede defeat.
The PML-N has countered the PTI claim about results and said that it was winning.
It said Sharif will deliver a "victory speech" after receiving the final results of the 2024 general elections, claiming that it is in contact with the independent candidates — mostly supported by PTI.
Taking to X, formerly Twitter, PML-N Chief Organiser Maryam wrote: "As opposed to the false perception deliberately built by a section of media last night, PML-N, Alhamdulillah emerging as the single largest party in the centre and Punjab.
"Some results awaited. MNS will head to PML-N HQ for the victory speech as soon as the final results are received. Insha'Allah. Stay tuned."
On the other hand, PML-N leader Ishaq Dar said that the independent candidates, who are emerging victorious in the 2024 general elections, are in contact with the party.
"The independents have contacted us and they will join any party in the next 72 hours as per the Constitution," said the former finance minister.
The caretaker Interior Ministry has said that it had reviewed the media and the public's concerns about the late processing of the results and attributed it to “lack of communication, which was the outcome of mobile services suspension taken to ensure a peaceful election process.”
The long delay in the announcement of results by the ECP created a lot of confusion.
Karachi, the biggest city in Pakistan, witnessed the most confusion when the Muttahida Qaumi Movement claimed it had already won 18 out of the 22 National Assembly seats from the city but this is yet to be verified.
Their rival parties the Jamaat-e-Islami and PPP both negated the MQM claim.