Pakistan hits back at criticism of election as both Imran Khan and Nawaz Sharif claim victory

Pakistan hits back at criticism of election as both Imran Khan and Nawaz Sharif claim victory

Pakistan has hit back at concerns expressed by the US, UK, and EU, calling for an investigation into the country’s electoral process, as both former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and jailed ex-prime minister Imran Khan claimed victory in the general elections.

The elections were held on 8 February for 265 seats in the national assembly and the vote counting is underway.

In a strongly worded reaction, the Foreign Ministry said it was surprised by “the negative tone of some of these statements, which neither take into account the complexity of the electoral process, nor acknowledge the free and enthusiastic exercise of the right to vote by tens of millions of Pakistanis”.

It claimed the election was conducted peacefully and successfully and that there was “no nationwide internet shutdown” and “only mobile services were suspended for the day to avoid terrorist incidents on polling day”.

While Mr Khan is in jail, and his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party has been barred from the polls, independent candidates, most backed by him, have won 99 seats – the most this election.

Mr Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party has won 71 seats with the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) winning 53, according to the Election Commission.

A party needs at least 133 seats for a simple majority.

Mr Khan announced his victory through a pre-recorded audio-visual message created using artificial intelligence.

Pakistan parliamentary election party position (Election Commission of Pakistan)
Pakistan parliamentary election party position (Election Commission of Pakistan)

“By turning out in such huge numbers and exercising your democratic right of franchise, you have laid the foundation for the restoration of the freedom to exercise citizens’ rights. I congratulate you all on helping us win the elections handsomely,” Mr Khan can be seen saying in the video, where his voice does not seem to sync with his lip movements.

The former cricketer turned politician made the announcement just hours after Mr Sharif also claimed victory prematurely in a speech on Friday, saying his PML-N party emerged as the largest in the results.

Before the elections, Mr Khan was disqualified as a candidate and sentenced to long terms in prison with multiple cases lodged against him although he denies any wrongdoing.

Britain, the US Department of State, and the EU separately raised concerns and urged a probe into the reported irregularities as both Mr Sharif’s party and Mr Khan claimed victory.

The EU observed in a statement that there was a “lack of a level playing field” due to “the inability of some political actors to contest the elections.”

The US also voiced similar concerns, also condemning “electoral violence, restrictions on the exercise of human rights and fundamental freedoms, including attacks on media workers, and restrictions on access to the Internet and telecommunication services,” the US state department said.

“Claims of interference or fraud should be fully investigated,” it added.

US parlimentarians, including representative Ro Khanna and Ilhan Omar echoed the state department’s notions about the election, urging not to recognise a winner until investigations are conducted into reports of misconduct.

British foreign minister David Cameron also raised “serious concerns” about the “fairness” and “inclusivity” of the election.

“We regret that not all parties were formally permitted to contest the elections and that legal processes were used to prevent some political leaders from participation, and to prevent the use of recognisable party symbols,” Mr Cameron said, pointing to reports of internet access restrictions on polling day and claims of irregularities in the counting process.

“The UK urges authorities in Pakistan to uphold fundamental human rights including free access to information, and the rule of law. This includes the right to a fair trial, through adherence to due process and an independent and transparent judicial system, free from interference,” he said.

Pakistan’s foreign office, in a statement on Saturday, said that international comments on the nation’s elections ignore the “undeniable fact” of Pakistan conducting elections successfully.

Earlier, Pakistan’s Army chief congratulated the country for the “successful conduct” of its national elections, saying the nation needed “stable hands” to move on from the politics of “anarchy and polarisation”.

The Chief of Army Staff of Pakistan “wishes that these elections bring in political and economic stability and prove to be the harbinger of peace and prosperity for our beloved Pakistan”, army chief Asim Munir said in a statement released by the media wing of the military.