Imran Khan has been officially crowned winner of Pakistan’s general election, as defeated rivals announced protests demanding new elections following allegations of widespread vote rigging.
The former cricketer had a commanding lead in the national assembly and had been expected to form a coalition easily over the coming days, although the protests could throw obstacles in his path to power.
"We will run a movement for holding of elections again. There will be protests," said Maulana Fazalur Rehman from the All Parties Conference, which included the outgoing ruling party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N).
Shahbaz Sharif, leader of the PML-N since his brother Nawaz was ousted and jailed, announced his support for the "movement" but said he still needed to consult his party to see if they would boycott taking oaths that would swear them into parliament as well.
"I fully agree with it. The worst kind of irregularities have been committed, which are unprecedented," he added.
The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), which has won the third largest number of seats in the vote, was notably absent from the APC.
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In a later press conference, PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said his party also rejected the election results, but vowed it would try to convince the other parties to participate in the parliamentary process.
The vote was meant to be a rare democratic transition in the Muslim country, which has been ruled by the powerful army for roughly half its history.
But it was marred by violence and allegations of military interference in the months leading up to the vote, with Khan seen as the beneficiary.
The EU Election Observation Mission to Pakistan’s chief Michael Gahler told reporters in Islamabad that "a number of violent attacks, targeting political parties, party leaders, candidates and election officials, severely affected the campaign environment".
"Many of our interlocutors acknowledged a systematic effort to undermine the former ruling party through cases of corruption, contempt of court and terrorist charges against its leaders and candidates," he continued.
The Election Commission (ECP) said Friday that with only a handful of seats left to count, Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) will be the biggest party in parliament.
But the count indicates PTI will not achieve the 137 seats needed in the National Assembly to form a majority government.
Analysts had long predicted that if Khan took power it would have to be via coalition – but the size of his lead still took many by surprise.
Analyst Ayesha Siddiqa said observers may have underestimated the depth of feeling among Pakistan’s growing middle class.
"Remember they grew up on this narrative of a corrupt Pakistan being damaged and needing a new leadership… In all this hue and cry, we didn’t notice there is another Pakistan there that wanted this change," she told AFP.
Khan campaigned on promises to end widespread graftwhile building an "Islamic welfare state".
Now the former World Cup cricket champion will have to partner with independents and smaller parties, a task analysts said should be straightforward.
Imran Khan has had to be very flexible indeed on his long climb to power in Pakistan
Khan claimed victory in a wide-ranging address to the nation on Thursday.
He vowed to tackle corruption and touched on promises to balance relations with the US, while saying he was open to discussions with arch-rival India including over the disputed Himalayan territory of Kashmir.
Khan will face myriad challenges including militant extremism, an economic crisis with speculation that Pakistan will have to seek a bailout from the International Monetary Fund, water shortages, and a booming population, among others.
He will also have to contend with the same issue as many of his predecessors: how to maintain a balance of power in civil-military relations.
In the West, Khan is typically seen through the prism of his celebrity and high-profile romances, but at home he cuts a more conservative persona as a devout Muslim who believes feminism has degraded motherhood.
Known in Pakistan as "Taliban Khan" for his calls to hold talks with insurgents, he increasingly catered to religious hardliners during the campaign, spurring fears his leadership could embolden extremists.