ISLAMABAD – Former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif declared victory following a historic election marred by violence Saturday, a remarkable comeback for a leader once toppled in a military coup and sent into exile.
The 63-year-old Sharif, who has twice served as premier, touted his success after unofficial, partial vote counts showed his Pakistan Muslim League-N party with an overwhelming lead. The party weathered a strong campaign by former cricket star Imran Khan that energized young Pakistanis.
The results, which need to be officially confirmed, indicated Sharif’s party has an overwhelming lead but would fall short of winning a majority of the 272 directly elected national assembly seats. That means he would have to put together a ruling coalition.
“I appeal to all to come sit with me at the table so that this nation can get rid of this curse of power cuts, inflation and unemployment,” Sharif said, as his supporters clapped, cheered and danced in the streets.
Despite attacks against candidates, party workers and voters that killed 29 people Saturday, Pakistanis turned out in large numbers to vote. The vote marked the first time a civilian government has completed its full five-year term and transferred power in democratic elections in a country that has experienced three coups and constant political instability since it was established in 1947.
The election was being watched closely by the United States, which relies on the nuclear-armed country of 180 million people for help fighting Islamic militants and negotiating an end to the war in neighboring Afghanistan.