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JUST IN: Uncertainty ahead for Pakistan after indecisive election

Pakistan has weeks of political uncertainty ahead following its indecisive election, analysts said Monday, with dozens of constituency results facing challenges in court and rival parties negotiating possible coalitions.

Independent candidates loyal to jailed former prime minister Imran Khan took most of the seats in Thursday’s polls, scuppering the chances of the army-backed Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) from securing a ruling majority.

Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) defied a months-long crackdown that crippled campaigning and forced candidates to run as independents to emerge as the winners of the vote.

There were widespread allegations of vote-rigging and result manipulation after authorities switched off the nation’s mobile phone network on election day, ostensibly on security grounds, and the count dragged on for more than 24 hours.

“Three potential challenges are linked to the legitimacy of the elections through prolonged legal proceedings, protests and potential for violence,” said Pakistan-based political analyst Amber Rahim Shamsi.

Despite independents winning 101 seats in the national assembly, a government can only be formed by a recognised party, or coalition of parties, so they would have to join another group to become an effective bloc.

– Desperately needed reforms –

A coalition between the PML-N and the Pakistan People’s Party — who formed the last government after ousting Khan with a vote of no confidence in April 2022 — still seems a most likely outcome.

“In the short-term, any coalition birthed through a highly controversial election in a highly charged political environment will find it challenging to enact unpopular reforms that Pakistan desperately needs,” Shamsi told AFP.

At least half a dozen minor parties won just one or two seats in the election, and would welcome the addition of the independents to their ranks.

That would give them access to an additional 70 seats reserved for women and religious minorities and allocated according to election results — although it has never been done on this scale before and faces legal challenges.

“The courts have a very delicate role at this moment,” said legal expert Osama Malik.

“They will (also) need to decide whether to order recounts in various constituencies. However, recounts in multiple constituencies could also delay the calling of parliament so the courts have to be wary of that as well.”

PTI leaders insist they have been given a “people’s mandate” to form the next government.