No clear victor has emerged from the divisive elections in Pakistan as the tardy vote-counting process neared completion on Saturday, indicating that the elusive political stability for the cash-strapped country may still be a distant dream.
The general elections were held on Thursday and the counting began soon after the polling ended at 5 pm with the hope that the majority of 265 contested seats would be available by Friday morning.
However, the announcement of results was delayed beyond normal, giving air to speculation about vote rigging.
According to the Election Commission of Pakistan, so far, the counting in 250 seats of the National Assembly has been completed and the independent candidates, a vast majority of them backed by jailed former prime minister Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, were on the top with 99 seats.
The group was followed by Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) with 71 seats, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) with 53, Muttahida Qaumi Movement with 17 and other seats going to smaller parties.
Though elected with the support of Khan's party, the independents can join any party, which is a potential source of instability, as they can also switch loyalties in future.
The PML-N's chief Nawaz Sharif on Friday evening announced that he was beginning consultations to form a kind of unity government but it may take several days before the shape of a future set-up comes up.
The PPP of former president Asif Ali Zardari already announced during elections that his young son and party chief Bilawal Bhutto Zardari would be the candidate for the prime minister's post, whereas Sharif is keen to become the premier for the record fourth time.
The PTI leadership is going to begin internal consultations from Saturday to decide which party its supported elected representative should join.
They may join a smaller party which would become the largest party to counter Sharif's claim that PML-N was the largest and had the right to form the government.
It is believed that the situation would remain fluid for a few days until the independents decide their future.
But one thing is clear: the government would be a hotchpotch of various parties, which would put more strain on the country rather than providing a cohesive force to make difficult decisions in the cash-strapped nation. Last year, the country narrowly averted a default when the International Monetary Fund provided a USD 3 billion short-term loan.
Economic experts believe that the new government would need an urgent new IMF programme on more stringent conditions.
The situation in the four provinces is more stable as PML-N is the largest party in Punjab with 131 seats out of 296 contested, the PPP in Sindh with 84 out of 130 seats and the independent swept the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa with 90 eats out of 113 contested seats.
In Balochistan, a coalition government is expected as PPP got 11 seats and PML-N followed with 9 out of a total of 51 contested seats.