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Nawaz Sharif Calls for a Coalition Government as Pakistan Headed for a Hung National Assembly

Nawaz Sharif Calls for a Coalition Government as Pakistan Headed for a Hung National Assembly


Manas Dasgupta

NEW DELHI, Feb 9: The former Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif called for a unity government as the cash-strapped country appeared to be heading towards a hung parliament on Friday with independent candidates, most of them backed by jailed ex-premier Imran Khan’s party winning 92 out of the 224 seats for which results were declared so far.

Addressing the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) supporters at the party’s central secretariat in Lahore, 74-year-old Sharif claimed that his party had emerged the single largest party and respect the mandate of all parties, including the independent candidates backed by Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party since holding repeated elections was not feasible.

According to the latest Election Commission data, results of 224 constituencies out of 265 were declared. Independent candidates (mostly supported by PTI) bagged 92 seats while PML-N got 63 and PPP 50. Smaller parties secured 19 seats.

Mr Nawaz Sharif declared victory in national elections saying his party has emerged as the largest and would talk to other groups to form a coalition government as it had failed to win a clear majority on its own. Sharif’s announcement came after more than three-quarters of the seats had declared results, more than 24 hours after polling ended on Thursday, marred by the deaths of 28 people in militant attacks.

Analysts had predicted there may be no clear winner, adding to the troubles of a country struggling to recover from an economic crisis while it grapples with rising militant violence in a deeply polarised political environment.

“We can’t hold elections again and again,” he said. “We were all sitting together yesterday but didn’t address you because the results were not in.” “Our party has emerged as single largest winning party in the country after Thursday’s polls. To steer Pakistan out of crises, we want other parties to join hands to form a coalition government,” said Sharif, the three-time former premier. “Our agenda is only a happy Pakistan and you know what we have done before.” He said that all the institutions should together play a positive role in bringing Pakistan out of this crisis.

“Everyone should sit in harmony and bring Pakistan out of the difficulties,” he said in his address which he described as a “victory speech”. Without naming Imran Khan, Sharif said: “Those who are in a mood to fight, I want to tell them that Pakistan cannot afford this fight. Pakistan needs stability for at least 10 years as this is a matter of the lives of Pakistanis.” He further said he wanted to develop cordial relations with neighbouring countries.

“Pakistan Muslim League is the single-largest party in the country today after the elections and it is our duty to bring this country out of the whirlpool,” Sharif told a press conference in the eastern city of Lahore. “Whoever has got the mandate, whether independents or parties, we respect the mandate they have got,” he said. “We invite them to sit with us and help this wounded nation get back on its feet.”

Sharif, 74, a three-time former premier, returned from four years of self-imposed exile in the United Kingdom late last year, having contested the last election from a jail cell on a graft conviction. He was considered the front-runner to lead the country, having buried a long-running feud with the powerful military.

Sharif said his party would have preferred to win a majority of its own but in the absence of that would get in touch with others, including former President Asif Ali Zardari of PPP, to open negotiations as early as Friday night.

In its first reaction, a senior aide of Khan said leaders of his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party would hold talks among themselves and also meet Khan in jail on Saturday to discuss the results. Results of the vote have been unusually delayed, which the caretaker government ascribed to the suspension of mobile phone services – a security measure ahead of Thursday’s election.

Independent members cannot form a government on their own under Pakistan’s complex election system which also includes reserved seats that will be allotted to parties based on their winnings. But independent members have the option to join any party after the elections. Khan’s party was barred from the election, so his supporters contested as independents.

The delay in the announcement of results was unusual for elections in Pakistan. Karachi’s stock index and Pakistan’s sovereign bonds fell because of the uncertainty. An “internet issue” was the reason behind the delay, Zafar Iqbal, special secretary at the election commission, said without elaborating.

The military has dominated the nuclear-armed country either directly or indirectly in its 76 years of independence from Britain but for several years it has maintained it does not interfere in politics. Analysts say a coalition government will struggle to tackle multiple challenges – foremost being seeking a new bailout programme from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) after the current arrangement expires in three weeks.

Thousands of troops were deployed on the streets and at polling stations across the country for the voting on Thursday. Borders with Iran and Afghanistan were temporarily closed as security was stepped up. Despite the heightened security, 28 people, including two children, were killed in 56 attacks including bomb and grenade blasts and shootings by militants, the Interior Ministry said.

Sharif announced that he has tasked his younger brother and PML-N president Shehbaz Sharif to reach out to the Pakistan Peoples’ Party’s Asif Ali Zardari, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (F) chief Fazlur Rehman and Muttahida Qaumi Movement’s Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui for the formation of a coalition government.

PPP Co-chairman Zardari has reached Lahore and is likely to meet PML-N leadership regarding the formation of government, according to media reports. A coalition government led by PML-N had served for 16 months after the ouster of Imran Khan from office in April 2022.

Earlier, PTI chairman Barrister Gohar Khan ruled out forging an alliance with the PPP and PML-N, saying his party is in a position to form a federal government on its own. He claimed that his party was winning 150 National Assembly seats and would be able to achieve the required number of seats to form government at the Centre.

“We are not intending to form a coalition government with PPP and PML-N,” he said. “We will form the government at the Centre and Punjab,” said Gohar Khan, who won NA-10 in the Buner area of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. PTI’s former parliament speaker Asad Qaisar also won.




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