Cricket star Imran Khan leads in slow count of Pakistan vote

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Cricket star-turned-politician Imran Khan has declared victory for his party in Pakistan's historic elections, promising a "new" Pakistan.

Pakistan watchers in the United States today doubted the fairness of the general election for which Imran Khan's party received the army's backing while the PML-N and the PPP ran their campaigns "under constraints".

But supporters of jailed former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who accuse Khan of colluding with the army, said the vote count was rigged and termed it an assault on democracy in a country that has a history of military rule. The results had been due by around 2 a.m. local time. The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) was also criticised for deploying the army both inside and outside polling stations. However, those projections were based on only about 20 percent of votes counted.

The PML-N, on the other hand, says it is the target of the alleged military machinations, with candidates under pressure and Nawaz Sharif ousted from power past year and jailed over a corruption conviction days before the vote, removing Khan's most unsafe foe from the race.

Sharif, who was immediately placed in custody after returning from Britain almost two weeks ago, has denounced the verdict as politically motivated and accused a covert military-judiciary alliance of trying to keep him out of politics and undermining the integrity of his PML-N party.

In a victory speech, Mr Khan acknowledged that fixing the economy was the "greatest challenge" and he would implement wide-ranging reforms.

A visibly exhausted Khan cut a conciliatory tone in a wide-ranging address to the nation following a controversial contest hit by accusations from major political parties of poll rigging and long delays in still unreleased official results.

Wednesday's (July 25) voting was marred by several terrorist attacks, including a bomb blast near a polling station in Quetta that killed 31 people and a strike on a military convoy that claimed the lives of three soldiers and one poll worker.

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Pakistanis started casting votes in the country's one-day general elections commenced on Wednesday morning, which would elect the members of the National Assembly, the lower house of the country's parliament, and of the four provincial assemblies.

Regardless of whether Khan, with his legions of youthful grass-roots followers, is able to defeat the troubled Muslim League, analysts predicted that neither party would win enough votes to form a government, leading to a period of weak coalition rule with the Pakistan People's Party, or possibly a hung Parliament, with the military exercising more power behind the scenes.

But campaigning has been plagued for months by allegations the powerful armed forces have been trying to tilt the race in Khan's favor after falling out with the outgoing ruling party of Sharif, who was jailed on corruption charges this month. PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and PML-N president Shahbaz Sharif were trailing behind their opponents in Malakand and Swat National Assembly constituencies.

"I anticipate the debate over rigging will occupy the political elite for some time", she said. ISIS, which has recently gained foothold in Afghanistan-Pakistan region immediately claimed responsibility for the attack.

Addressing a news conference in northeastern Lahore city on Wednesday night, Shehbaz said his party "wholly" rejected the results.

The PPP, which has been overtaken by Khan's PTI as the main challenger to PML-N, has also alleged intimidation by spy agencies.

Talking to APP, former minister Sardar Yaqoob Khan Nasar, contesting from the same constituency, said, "The constituency (earlier known as NA-263) had witnessed only 26.6 per cent women turnout of a total of 93,016 female registered voters in the last general election of 2013 due to less number of dedicated polling stations for women".