And SAEED SHAH
LAHORE, Pakistan—A conservative former Pakistani prime minister ousted in a 1999 military coup, Nawaz Sharif, headed toward leading the nuclear-armed nation for the third time after Saturday’s election that also turned populist cricket legend Imran Khan into a major political force, according to nearly complete results.
Mr. Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-N was leading the vote count in 127 constituencies out of 272. Mr. Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, which boycotted the previous election in 2008, was leading in 34 races, while the Pakistan Peoples Party that controlled the previous government trailed in third place with 30 seats. With independents and small parties eager to back a winner, this showing would make it easy for Mr. Sharif to form the next government of the world’s fifth largest democracy.
Players to Watch in Pakistan
Review some of the key players on Saturday’s election.
The election would mark the first time in Pakistan’s coup-ridden history that a civilian government served a full five-year term and transferred power to another elected administration. Turnout was close to 60%, according the country’s election commission, much higher than the 44% in the previous vote, despite Taliban threats and scattered violence that killed at least 19 people.
“Pakistan needs a strong government that can take strong decisions,” Mr. Sharif said as he watched the results stream in on TV in his Lahore headquarters, with cheers by supporters outside growing louder with every new projection. As his lead solidified, he came out to make a victory speech, urging supporters to pray for an outright PML-N majority by the end of the count, so that a future government could be established “without crutches.”
Mr. Sharif, in an interview with The Wall Street Journal after the vote, said he foresaw no new problems with the country’s powerful military establishment, saying that the 1999 coup against him was the personal initiative of then-army chief Gen. Pervez Musharraf, and not the military as a whole.
He also said he would work for improved relations with the U.S., India and Afghanistan.
The outgoing government led by President Asif Ali Zardari‘s Pakistan Peoples Party was widely perceived as corrupt, and PPP—once a major political force—was fighting neck and neck with Mr. Khan’s PTI for the second place in the race, according to initial results.
The Pakistani Taliban have focused their campaign of violence and intimidation that killed more than 100 people in the run-up to Saturday’s vote on the PPP and its two secular allies, the Awami National Party and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement.
In the biggest attack on election day, 11 people were killed Saturday morning in twin bombings targeting an ANP office in the southern city of Karachi, a police official said. ANP, according to initial results, would have no seats in the new federal parliament, in part because Taliban violence made it nearly impossible for its candidates to campaign.
“Tonight, while other parties will be counting their votes, we will be counting our martyrs,” said Shahi Syed, the ANP’s provincial chief for Sindh province, which includes Karachi.”Those from other parties should remember that you may have reached parliament, but there is another parliament, of God, to face in the next life, where they will meet our martyrs.”
ANP controlled the previous government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the predominantly ethnic Pashtun province where much of the Taliban violence is concentrated. According to early results, Mr. Khan’s PTI—which promised to shoot down American drones hunting Islamist militants—would be able to form the province’s next administration.
While an achievement, this result fell short of Mr. Khan’s promises of a PTI “tsunami” that would upend Pakistan’s political order. In a highly symbolic race in Lahore, Pakistan’s wealthiest city and the election’s key battleground where Mr. Khan was personally running for a parliament seat, he was defeated by a PML-N candidate. Pakistan, however, allows candidates to run in more than one constituency at the same time. Mr. Khan secured a parliament seat for himself in another area of the country.
“This is an impressive showing by Imran Khan but not a tsunami,” said Lahore-based political analyst Hasan Askari Rizvi. He added, however, that “Imran Khan has emerged as an important political force.”
Asad Umer, the election campaign manager for PTI, admitted that the election’s results were “short of expectations” for the party.
But, he added: “Our bottom line was achieved. This was a vote for an ideology, not a constituency-based vote.”
However, another party official said that the PML-N victory was a “hard blow” for Mr. Khan, and that the former cricket star would not be able to recover quickly.
“He’s put 17 years of his life into this. He was convinced the was going to win,” said one party official.
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