Former cricketer Imran Khan has claimed victory in Pakistan’s election, amid accusations of vote rigging by rivals.
In a television address, he said: “We were successful and we were given a mandate.”
His PTI party is still expected to fall short of an overall majority and to seek coalition partners. Campaigning has been marred by violence. On voting day a bomb killed 31 people at a polling station.
Mr Khan, the charismatic aristocrat who captained Pakistan to a World Cup victory in 1992, has long shed his celebrity playboy image and has recently faced accusations that his election challenge was benefiting from military interference in the nuclear-armed republic.
An official confirmation of the vote is expected to come later in the evening.
The party of disgraced former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has rejected the results, as have a host of smaller parties, all alleging vote-rigging and manipulation.
The election has been seen as a contest between Mr Khan’s PTI party and Mr Sharif’s PML-N, with the party of assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, the historically liberal PPP, widely expected to come third.
In his address, Mr Khan said: “I think this has been the clearest, fairest election Pakistan has ever had.” He added that he would investigate any claims to the contrary.
He also appealed to his rivals to join hands with him to develop Pakistan. And he vowed to hold talks with India to seek a resolution to the dispute over the Kashmir region, a key flashpoint between the nuclear-armed countries.
He also called for “mutually beneficial” ties with the United States, despite being an outspoken critic of that country’s anti-terrorism measures in the region, such as drone strikes. With votes counted in 49% of stations, Mr Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) party was leading in 120 of the 272 National Assembly constituencies being contested, Pakistan’s Dawn Newspaper reported, citing election commission figures.
A total of 137 seats is required for a majority.
This election will mark only the second time that a civilian government has handed power to another after serving a full term in Pakistan.
The turnout has been estimated at between 50% and 55% out of 106 million registered voters, AFP reports.
On Thursday, Dawn said the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) had raised questions over the voting process. “The commission received complaints that in many areas women were not allowed to vote,” the newspaper reported.