Political parties in Pakistan on Sunday intensified their efforts for the formation of a coalition government after it became clear that the cash-strapped country faced a hung Parliament after general elections.
The general elections were held on Thursday, but the unusual delay in the announcement of results vitiated the atmosphere as several parties cried foul play and some resorted to protests.
Former prime minister and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz supremo Nawaz Sharif received the backing of the powerful Pakistan Army on Saturday for his call for a unity government to pull Pakistan out of its current difficulties.
The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has announced the results of 264 out of 265 contested seats.
The result of NA 88 was withheld by the ECP due to complaints of fraud and it would be announced after redressing the grievances of the aggrieved. Election to one seat was postponed after the death of a candidate.
The independent, a vast majority of them backed by jailed former prime minister Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), got the biggest piece of the cake by getting 101 seats in the 266-member National Assembly.
They were followed by three-time former Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) with 75 seats, which technically is the single largest party in Parliament.
The Pakistan Peoples Party of Bilawal Zardari Bhutto got 54 seats, and the Karachi-based Muttahida Qaumi Movement Pakistan (MQM-P) of Urdu-speaking people who migrated from India during partition, got 17 seats.
Other smaller parties won the rest of the 12 seats.
To form a government, a party must win 133 seats out of 265 in the National Assembly.
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 which will be decided later.
The PML-N was leading the push to form the coalition government on the pattern of one it set up after Khan, 71, was removed as prime minister through a no-confidence vote in April 2022.
Party supremo Sharif, 74, tasked his younger brother former premier Shehbaz Sharif to hold talks on the issue. He already met with senior PPP leaders.
A delegation of the MQM-P is in Lahore and held a meeting with Shehbaz.
The group is holding a key meeting with the elder Sharif.
The MQM delegation is led by Dr. Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui. Muslim League (N) President Shehbaz Sharif, Maryam Nawaz and other League leaders are also participating in the meeting.
"In the meeting, there will be consultation regarding government formation," Shehbaz said.
MQM-P leader Haider Rizvi earlier told Geo News in an interview that his party would be more comfortable with the PML-N as the “two parties don't compete in Karachi” unlike the PPP or other parties.
It is believed that a newer version of the Pakistan Democratic Movement coalition, also called as PDM government, under Shehbaz Sharif was more likely based on the experience of running the government after Khan was removed.
The new set-up is being dubbed PDM-2.0.
Pakistan's powerful army chief Gen Asim Munir on Saturday urged the country's polarised political leadership to form a "unified government of all democratic forces".
Meanwhile, PTI leader Gohar Khan also claimed that his party would form the government but analysts believe that it was not possible.
The Express Tribune quoted Ahmed Bilal Mehboob of the Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency (PILDAT) as saying that apparently, the PTI is not in a position to form the government without forming an alliance with major political parties like the PML-N or the PPP as it doesn't have the required number for claiming majority in the lower house of Parliament.
The PILDAT chief also explained in detail what will happen if the PTI-affiliated independent candidates can join the PTI again during the three-day post-election period.
He said it was possible. However, Mehboob explained that it will be a long route as it is mandatory that the party that the independent candidates want to join must have a party symbol.
PTI candidates contested as independents after the Supreme Court and Election Commission of Pakistan said they could not use the party symbol, a cricket bat.
Therefore, he said, if they want to join the PTI again, the PTI will have to hold intra-party elections and get its symbol back or any other symbol.
PPP leader Asif Ali Zardari is expected to hold important meetings on Sunday to discuss the modalities of their proposed alliance.
There is also talk of the office of the president being offered as a ‘political carrot', the Dawn newspaper said. While the PML-N camp is buzzing with activity, PPP leaders are keeping their cards close to their chest.
Party leaders told Dawn News on Saturday they were “surprised” to see the impression that they were “all set” to join a PML-N-led coalition government in the Centre, insisting that no such decision had been reached.
So much so, they claimed, that the idea hadn't been discussed even within the party so far.
“We haven't talked about anything regarding the future partnership or coalition government in the Centre,” PPP Chairman Bilawal said.
“We are still in the process of assessing the election results and emerging political situation. Once the results are finalised, the central executive committee, which has already nominated me as the PM candidate, will sit again and devise the course of action,” he said.
Speaking to Geo News earlier in the day, Bilawal said that his party was the only one with representation in all four provinces.
Meanwhile, the complete results of the three provincial assemblies of Punjab, Sindh and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa have been announced but the results of the three constituencies of the Balochistan assembly were still pending.
In Punjab's 296 contested seats, independents got 138 seats, closely followed by PML-N with 137 and other parties getting 21 seats.
In Sindh's total 130 contested seats, results of 129 were announced while the ECP ordered a re-poll in one constituency due to corruption.
In Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, a total of 113 seats were up for grabs, and results of 112 seats had been announced and withheld the outcome on one seat.
Earlier, elections on two seats were postponed before election day due to the deaths of the candidates.
Meanwhile, protests began on Saturday in various cities against delays in results and alleged rigging. Activists belonging to PTI were leading the protests. So far no untoward incident of violence has been reported, according to official sources.