Khan supporters and other Pakistani parties block highways to protest election results

Thousands of supporters of Pakistan’s imprisoned former Prime Minister Imran Khan and members of other political parties blocked key highways and started a daylong strike in the volatile southwest Monday to protest alleged rigging of last week’s elections.

Candidates backed by Khan won more seats than the political parties who ousted him from power nearly two years ago, according to the final tally published Sunday. However, no party won a majority, so the parties will have to hold talks on forming a coalition government. The new parliament chooses the country’s next prime minister.

Thursday’s vote to choose a new parliament was overshadowed by the vote-rigging allegations, an unprecedented mobile phone shutdown, and the exclusion of Khan and his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, or PTI, from the vote.

While election winners were celebrating victory, PTI and other parties refused to accept their defeat in dozens of constituencies. Dozens of Khan’s supporters were briefly detained in the eastern city of Lahore over the weekend while protesting alleged vote-rigging.

Jan Achakzai, a government spokesman in the southwest province of Baluchistan, urged protesters to “show grace” by accepting defeat and moving away from the highways.

Khan could not run in the election because of the criminal convictions against him that he says are politically motivated.

Candidates aligned with Khan secured 101 out of 266 seats in the National Assembly, or lower house of parliament.

The Pakistan Muslim League-N party led by three-time premier and ex-felon Nawaz Sharif secured 75. Sharif is currently in talks with allies to form a coalition government.

The Pakistan People’s Party, or PPP, led by Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, came in third with 54 seats. One result has been withheld and another vote was postponed because of a candidate’s death. The campaign to kick Khan out of office in 2022 was led by the PML-N and the PPP.

Pakistan’s military has always cast itself as the ultimate arbiter of who becomes prime minister, and Sharif was marked out as the powerful security establishment’s preferred candidate because of his smooth return to the country last October.

Sharif spent four years in exile to avoid serving prison sentences but his convictions were overturned within weeks of his arrival in Pakistan.

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