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Sharif makes strong comeback in Pak
His party PML-N poised to form new govt; Imran’s Tehrik-i-Insaf party concedes defeat
Afzal Khan Islamabad

Toppled in a 1999 military coup, jailed and exiled, Pakistan's Nawaz Sharif has made a triumphant election comeback and is certain to become the Prime Minister for a third time. The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) has taken an unassailable lead in the landmark elections with its main rivals — former cricketer Imran Khan's Tehrik-i-Insaf (PTI) and the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) — trailing far behind.

Counting of votes was progressing at a slow pace with trends indicating that Sharif may marginally fall short of absolute majority but will be able to make it up by getting the support of Independents and smaller rightist parties like the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI) which was ahead in 11 seats.

Analysts said it was possible that the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, leading in 12 seats, could also back Sharif in forming the government.

To win a simple majority, a party or coalition would have to bag 137 of the 272 National Assembly seats for which polls were held. Another 70 seats in the 342-member National Assembly are reserved for women and minorities.

Trends from 264 of the 272 parliamentary seats that went to the polls yesterday showed that the PML-N was set to bag in excess of 124 seats. Imran’s PTI, about which there was considerable hype, lagged behind with trends showing it leading in just 32 seats. The PPP, which had a tally of 124 in the 2008 elections and ruled the country for five years with the support of the MQM and the Awami National Party, was ahead in only in 32 seats.

“The results are still coming in but we almost have confirmation about one thing — that the PML-N has emerged the largest party in this election,” said Sharif addressing his supporters in Lahore.

Conceding defeat, Imran said: "I have seen many ups and downs in my life. But I forget the pain of this defeat when I see the enthusiasm of the youngsters."

Sharif is set to return to power at a time when Pakistan is facing several major challenges, including growing extremism, a strong Taliban presence in the country's northwest, rampant corruption, uneasy relations with the US ahead of the withdrawal of foreign forces from war-torn Afghanistan and an economy that has virtually been in free fall for the past few years.

Sharif’s party is also set to form the government in the Punjab province where it was leading in 204 seats out of 304. The PTI was unexpectedly trailing far behind in Punjab though it was bracing for forming government in that province.

Sharif won reminding people of the path of progress on which the country was moving under his rule in 1990s and five years of good governance under his brother Shahbaz Sharif in Punjab after the 2008 polls. During his rallies, Sharif blamed the PPP for crippling power outages that hit Punjab most, paralysing its industry, disrupting social and economic life and rendering millions of factory workers unemployed. Amid wave that he will be the next premier, influential politicians who had been shifting parties in the past, moved in a big way to join the PML-N giving it a major victory. The PML-N also got the backing of business houses, the middle class, factory workers and rural poor. Imran fascinated and motivated millions of youth, and educated middle class which turned up to vote in large numbers. Imran, who pledged to eliminate corruption, devolve power to lowest level in villages, recast relations with US, collect taxes from rich and run clean austere government, won on three seats --- Peshawar, Rawalpindi and home district Mianwali --- of the four he contested. He, however, lost to his former party loyalist Ayaz Sadiq of PML-N in Lahore. Sharif and Shahbaz Sharif won handily on two seats each and so did PTI’s president Javed Hashmi while its chairman Shah Mahmood Qureshi lost on both seats he contested.

The PPP was routed in Punjab and was the case of its ally, ANP in Khyber Pakhtunkhawa, where its president Asfandyar Wali Khan also lost. Rudderless and leaderless, it failed to conduct any election campaign in the country. The Bhutto name, however, won for it Sindh province. It newly appointed presidents Manzoor Wattoo in Punjab and Anwar Saifullah in KP lost. The party could win only one National Assembly seat in Punjab. Former Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf was also demolished badly.

Individually, former minister Shaikh Rashid won in Rawalpindi with the PTI help and Ejazul Haq, son of ex-military dictator Ziaul Haq, won in Bahawalnagar.

(With agency inputs)

PM invites Sharif

PM Manmohan Singh congratulated Nawaz Sharif for his “emphatic victory” and invited him to visit India at a mutually-convenient time. “The PM has extended his congratulations to Sharif and his party for their emphatic victory in Pakistan's elections,” the PMO said.





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