ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s caretaker prime minister on Monday defended the widely criticized delay in the announcement of the results of last week’s election, saying authorities took only 36 hours to count over 60 million votes while also grappling with militant attacks.
Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar said that the previous election results had been announced after a delay of 66 hours when Imran Khan won power in 2018. He insisted that a “level playing field” was available to all political parties, including Khan, the imprisoned former prime minister whose party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, won most of the seats — but only because its candidates ran as independents.
Thursday’s vote was held to choose a new parliament but was overshadowed by allegations of vote-rigging, an unprecedented mobile phone shutdown, and the exclusion of Khan and his party from the vote.
Kakar said at a news conference that the mobile phone service was suspended on election day for security reasons following a pair of militant attacks that killed 30 people in southwestern Baluchistan province a day before the vote. He said that security forces last week killed a key militant from the Daesh group who was behind the two elections-related attacks.
He said he could afford a delay in the announcement of the election results “but not the terrorism or the terrorist attacks.”
Kakar said the elections were largely held in a peaceful, free and fair manner, and the much-awaited process to install a new government could begin within the next eight to nine days, when the newly elected National Assembly is expected to convene.
He said the parliament will elect the speaker, deputy speaker and the new prime minister.
Kakar said people were allowed to hold peaceful protests but warned that action would be taken if rallies turned violent.
On Monday, thousands of supporters of Khan and members of other political parties blocked key highways and started a daylong strike in the volatile southwest to protest alleged vote-rigging. Separately, several nationalist and Islamist political parties in Baluchistan blocked two highways leading to Iranian and Afghan border crossings and disrupting trade and movement of people.
While election winners were celebrating, PTI and other parties refused to accept their defeat in dozens of constituencies. Dozens of Khan’s supporters were briefly detained in the eastern city of Lahore over the weekend while protesting alleged election irregularities.
Jan Achakzai, a government spokesman in Baluchistan, urged protesters to “show grace” by accepting defeat and moving away from the highways.
Khan could not run in the election because of the criminal convictions against him that he says are politically motivated. His candidates won 93 out of 265 National Assembly seats — not enough to form a government.
The Pakistan Muslim League-N party led by three-time premier and ex-felon Nawaz Sharif secured 75. Sharif is currently in talks with allies to form a coalition government.
The Pakistan People’s Party, or PPP, led by Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, came in third with 54 seats. One result has been withheld and another vote was postponed because of a candidate’s death. The campaign to kick Khan out of office in 2022 was led by the PML-N and the PPP.
The two parties were in talks to form a coalition government.
Pakistan’s military has always cast itself as the ultimate arbiter of who becomes prime minister, and Sharif was marked out as the powerful security establishment’s preferred candidate because of his smooth return to the country last October.
Sharif spent four years in exile to avoid serving prison sentences but his convictions were overturned within weeks of his arrival in Pakistan.