Islamabad, Pakistan – Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) has emerged as the single largest party in the Pakistani lower house of parliament, as international observers declared the polling process less fair than the country’s previous general election.
The PTI won at least 116 out of the 272 directly elected National Assembly seats in Wednesday’s election, official results released by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) showed on Friday – with results from four constituencies still awaited.
Khan‘s party will need 137 seats to form the government, and has begun approaching smaller political forces with the aim of putting together a coalition.
With 64 seats, imprisoned former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif‘s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) will almost certainly be relegated to the role of opposition for the next five years.
The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) won 43 seats, with independents and smaller parties taking the remaining seats.
Voter turnout was reported to be 51.78 percent of the more than 105 million eligible voters, a slight drop from the 2013 general election.
Polling was suspended in two constituencies after violent attacks during the campaign, and elections will be held there at a later date.
The PML-N on Friday led a multiparty conference in the capital, Islamabad, after it and several other parties – including the PPP and religious party coalition Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) – alleged widespread irregularities in the vote-counting process.
Those in attendance rejected the election result, according to Fazl-ur-Rehman, Jamiat Ulema-e Islam (JUI-F) party chief. Other parties, including the PML-N, said they had not yet decided whether to join the JUI-F’s call for nationwide protests.
On Thursday, Khan said his party would fully support any investigation into the allegations of poll rigging.
On Friday, the European Union‘s observer mission said the election suffered from the lack of a level playing field, and that irregularities had been reported in the vote-counting process.
“Our assessment is that, overall, the elections of 2018 were not as good as in 2013,” Michael Gahler, the EU’s chief observer who has monitored several general elections in Pakistan, said in a press conference in Islamabad.
The EU’s assessment declared that there appeared to be “a systematic effort to undermine the former ruling party (PML-N) through cases of corruption, contempt of court and terrorist charges against its leaders and candidates”.
Sharif, the PML-N chief, was convicted by an anti-terrorism court in early July, and jailed shortly after.
In the run-up to the polls, the PML-N, as well as other political parties and rights groups, had alleged widespread incidences of intimidation of candidates by the country’s powerful military, as well as censorship of the press on political and security issues.
“Concerted efforts by state and non-state actors to stifle the reporting environment were evident,” read the EU observer mission’s preliminary report.
The report further declared that while “voting was assessed as well-conducted and transparent” in the 446 polling stations observed, there were issues in the vote-counting process.
“Counting was sometimes problematic … polling staff did not always follow procedures and had difficulties completing the result forms.”
The Free and Fair Elections Network (FAFEN), a Pakistani observer network that deployed more than 19,600 staff to observe the polls, said that while there were significant improvements in the overall process, questions remain regarding the results.
It reported that in at least 35 constituencies, the number of rejected votes was larger than the winning party’s margin of victory.
Regarding the role of the military, the EU observer mission said that security personnel were observed recording and transmitting the results, “giving the impression of parallel tabulation”.
The PML-N has alleged that the deployment of more than 371,000 troops during the elections was an attempt by the country’s military – which has ruled Pakistan for roughly half of its 70-year history and has clashed with the party in recent times – to manipulate the election results.
The military denies any involvement in the polling process beyond providing security.
Asad Hashim is Al Jazeera’s digital correspondent in Pakistan. He tweets @AsadHashim