Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif Friday called for a unity government as the cash-strapped Pakistan appeared to be heading towards a hung parliament, with independent candidates backed by jailed ex-premier Imran Khan's party springing a surprise by winning 92 out of the 224 seats for which results were declared so far.
Addressing the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) supporters at the party's central secretariat in Lahore, 74-year-old Sharif said his party respects the mandate of all parties, including the independent candidates backed by Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party.
According to the latest Election Commission data, results of 224 constituencies out of 265 were declared. Independent candidates (mostly supported by PTI) bagged 92 seats while PML-N got 63 and PPP 50. Smaller parties secured 19 seats.
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.
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.
Changing his stance of not forging any alliance with any party, Sharif on Friday said that there is a need for all the political parties to sit together and form a government to pull Pakistan out of its difficulties.
"We can't hold elections again and again,” he said. “We were all sitting together yesterday but didn't address you because the results were not in."
"Our party has emerged as single largest winning party in the country after Thursday's polls. To steer Pakistan out of crises, we want other parties to join hands to form a coalition government,” said Sharif, the three-time former premier. "Our agenda is only a happy Pakistan and you know what we have done before."
He said that all the institutions should together play a positive role in bringing Pakistan out of this crisis.
"Everyone should sit in harmony and bring Pakistan out of the difficulties," he said in his address which he described as a "victory speech".
Without naming Imran Khan, Sharif said: “Those who are in a mood to fight, I want to tell them that Pakistan cannot afford this fight. Pakistan needs stability for at least 10 years as this is a matter of the lives of Pakistanis."
He further said he wanted to develop cordial relations with neighbouring countries.
Sharif announced that he has tasked his younger brother and PML-N president Shehbaz Sharif to reach out to the Pakistan Peoples' Party's Asif Ali Zardari, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (F) chief Fazlur Rehman and Muttahida Qaumi Movement's Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui for the formation of a coalition government.
Meanwhile, PPP Co-chairman Zardari has reached Lahore and is likely to meet PML-N leadership regarding the formation of government, according to media reports.
A coalition government led by PML-N had served for 16 months after the ouster of Imran Khan from office in April 2022.
Earlier, PTI chairman Barrister Gohar Khan 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.
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'.
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.
PML-N leader Ishaq Dar earlier 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.