(Bloomberg) -- Vote-counting delays following Pakistan’s election on Thursday pointed to a disputed result as supporters of jailed former leader Imran Khan and three-time premier Nawaz Sharif claimed victories, raising the prospect of instability in the country.
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As of 11:57 a.m. in Pakistan on Friday, election authorities had announced the results of 57 of 265 National Assembly seats up for grabs. The parties of Sharif and the powerful Bhutto clan were neck-and-neck with the independent candidates, most of whom are backed by Khan’s party after it was effectively banned from contesting in the elections.
While the outcome is far from certain, the delay raises the potential of a disputed result that could generate street protests. It also creates uncertainty over who will form a government in a nuclear-armed nation that has the fastest inflation in Asia, tension with its neighbors and relies on aid from the International Monetary Fund.
Pakistan Election Remains Tight as Results Pick Up Pace: TOPLive
Pakistan’s benchmark KSE-100 Index slid almost 4% before paring about half of its losses as stock investors reacted to the uncertainty surrounding the election results.
“Any controversy around election results will lead to political instability and in turn may make it very difficult for the next government to negotiate and implement the next IMF program,” said Abid Qaiyum Suleri, executive director of the Sustainable Development Policy Institute, an independent think tank based in Islamabad. “If the political instability persists after elections, the government will be on a very weak pitch to take required reforms.”
The delays in the election results came after authorities suspended mobile phone services across the country and at least 12 people were killed in militant attacks in remote provinces bordering Afghanistan. In a statement Friday morning, the Interior Ministry said a “lack of communication” caused delays in results due to precautionary security measures.
Both major parties claimed victory. Gohar Khan, the chairman of Khan’s PTI party, said in a post on X that it was leading in more than 150 seats but that “attempts are being made to change the results.” Sharif’s party, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, similarly declared it would form a government in Islamabad, with former finance minister Ishaq Dar saying on X that internal party data showed it’s won the most votes.
Khan, who was imprisoned last year following a conviction in one of more than 170 legal cases filed against him, has been Pakistan’s most popular politician and mobilized demonstrations targeting both Sharif and the military following his ouster in a 2022 confidence vote.
“Investors would be watchful if protests broke out,” said Adnan Khan, head of international sales at Intermarket Securities Ltd. “The next couple of days are very important whether people across the country accepts the results or not.”
In a bad sign for Sharif, a senator with his own party, Mushahid Hussain Sayed, tweeted a screenshot of early unofficial counts showing Khan-backed independents with an overwhelming lead, calling it “probably the biggest election upset in Pakistan’s political history in the last 50 years.”
“This is an inflection point for Pakistan,” he told Bloomberg News in a mobile-phone message. “The gap between the Elite and the Street needs to be bridged by giving a healing touch and accept the Popular Will. Any other course would be a recipe for disaster and destabilization!”
Sharif returned from exile in London and was acquitted of corruption charges last year, paving the way for him to run to lead Pakistan for a fourth time. He was seen by analysts as backed by the country’s powerful military as a political figure who could replace Khan.
The next leader will need to navigate a heavy debt load and negotiate a new bailout from the IMF. The country’s nine-month bailout program from the IMF, Pakistan’s 23rd since independence in 1947, expires next month.
Pakistan’s military has ruled the nation for almost half of its history, and retains outsized influence over elected politicians. Sharif himself was ousted in a 1999 coup and has spent several stints in exile.
--With assistance from Ashutosh Joshi, Khalid Qayum and Nasreen Seria.
(Updates with latest results, rolling chart.)
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