Cricket star Imran Khan wins in Pakistan but needs coalition

In this photo provided by the office of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, Pakistani politician Imran Khan, chief of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, delivers his address in Islamabad, Pakistan, Thursday, July 26, 2018. Khan declared victory Thursday for his party in the country's general elections, promising a "new" Pakistan following a vote that was marred by allegations of fraud and militant violence. (Tehreek-e-Insaf via AP)

ISLAMABAD — It’s official: Pakistan’s Election Commission today declared former cricket star Imran Khan’s party the winner of Pakistan’s historic third consecutive election of a civilian government, but he didn’t win an outright majority and must form a coalition.

After two days of tediously slow vote counting, Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party won 114 of 269 seats in the National Assembly with his nearest rival, Shahbaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League, winning 63 seats. Sharif, who heads the party of jailed ex-prime minister Nawaz Sharif, earlier rejected the results charging widespread fraud and manipulation.

In Pakistan, where a British-modeled parliamentary system is in place, voters on Wednesday elected lawmakers to both its National Assembly and its four provincial Parliaments.

Fawad Chaudhry, spokesman for Khan’s party, said efforts were already underway to form a coalition, looking to both independents and allies, but the process is likely to take several days. Still, on Thursday the 65-year-old Khan made his first speech to the nation declaring his party victorious based on projections.

“Today in front of you, in front of the people of Pakistan, I pledge I will run Pakistan in such a way as it has never before been run,” Khan said, vowing to wipe out corruption, strengthen institutions he called dysfunctional and regain national pride by developing international relationships based on respect and equality.

But there is a long way to go before Pakistan’s national and provincial governments are in place and Khan can set out on his agenda.

His opponents and rights groups charge that widespread fraud and massive manipulation gave Khan’s party its victory. They allege involvement of Pakistan’s powerful military and its intelligence agency known by the acronym ISI. Khan has dismissed the allegations saying polling was the most transparent in the country’s 71-year history, which has been dominated by military interference, either directly or indirectly.

Third place in the National Assembly went to the left-of-center Pakistan People’s party with 39 seats. Results from 20 seats were still being counted Friday but they will not change the outcome. Pakistan’s National Assembly has 342 seats but only 272 are directly elected by voters. In Wednesday’s election three seats were uncontested because one candidate died, another was disqualified and a third was declared.

The remainder of the parliament goes to seats reserved for women and minorities.

A mix of smaller parties and independent candidates whom Khan will have to woo to form a coalition won the remainder of seats in Pakistan’s National Assembly. The Election Commission said vote counting was also still underway in 20 remote areas of the country, offering the long-time politician a possibility of more seats but not an outright majority.

Adding confusion to chaos, Sharif, who has rejected the election results won the majority of seats in Pakistan’s most powerful Punjab province.

His party won 127 of the 297-seat provincial parliament, while Khan’s PTI took 117 seats, giving neither an outright majority and forcing both to try to form a coalition government. The Punjab parliament is significant because Punjab is Pakistan’s largest province, with 60 percent of the country’s 200 million people.

If Khan wants to implement his sweeping reform agenda his party needs to control the Punjab Parliament.