Pakistan’s former ruling party conceded defeat to cricket star-turned-politician Imran Khan ahead of the final results from the country’s disputed election, which European Union monitors said had not been fought on a level playing field.
Mr Khan, during his victory speech on Thursday had offered to investigate opposition allegations of vote-rigging and said he wanted to “unite” the country under his leadership.
The party of jailed ex-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif initially rejected the so far incomplete results, but by Friday its leaders appeared to accept that Mr Khan would be the next Prime Minister.
“We are going to sit on opposition benches, despite all the reservations,” said Hamza Shehbaz Sharif, nephew of Nawaz Sharif, who is in prison after being convicted on corruption charges he disputes.
The allegations of rigging in Wednesday’s election followed a bitter campaign in which Pakistan’s powerful military was accused of tilting the race in favour of Mr Khan.
The EU Election Observation Mission, in its preliminary findings, said the electoral process was “not as good” as the 2013 election and campaign week featured a “lack of equality” that meant it was not a level playing field for all parties.
“Many of our interlocutors acknowledged a systematic effort to undermine the former ruling party through cases of corruption, contempt of court and terrorist charges against its leaders and candidates,” chief EU observer Michael Gahler told a news conference.
The mission included 120 observers who visited 582 polling stations in all the provinces except Baluchistan.
Mr Gahler said EU observers had not witnessed any military interference in polling stations they assessed.
“On election day, polling was assessed as well conducted and transparent,” he said. “However, counting was somewhat problematic with staff not always following the procedures.”
He added later: “The credibility or the legitimacy of this process, that is for the people of Pakistan.”
Although Mr Khan appeared likely to fall short of the 137 seats needed for a majority in the National Assembly, his better-than-expected results mean he should have no problems forming a government with a handful of small coalition partners.
The latest Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) official partial results showed Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, had won 115 seats out of the National Assembly has 272 seats in total.
The commission was expected to announce full results later on Friday.