Candidates backed by the party of jailed Pakistani opposition leader Imran Khan plan to form a government, a senior aide to the former prime minister said on Saturday, urging supporters to peacefully protest if final election results are not released.
The South Asian nation of 241 million people voted on Thursday in a general election, as the country struggles to recover from an economic crisis and battles militant violence in a deeply polarised political environment.
Both Khan and his main rival, three-time former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, declared victory on Friday, increasing uncertainty over who will form the next government at a time when swift policy action is needed to address multiple challenges.
Gohar Khan, the chairman of Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-Insaf (PTI) party who also acts as the former prime minister's lawyer, called on "all institutions" in Pakistan to respect his party's mandate.
Khan rival Sharif had said would form coalition government
Khan-backed independents won most seats in national election
Party of jailed politician calls on all to respect its mandate
Pakistan foreign office rejects criticism of polls
Elections marred by violence, delays in release of results
At a press conference, he said if complete results of the polls were not released by Saturday night, the party would hold peaceful protests on Sunday outside government offices returning election results around the country.
Sharif said on Friday his party had emerged as the single largest group and would talk to other groups to form a coalition government.
By 5pm (12:00 GMT) on Saturday, results were still not in for 10 of the 265 seats contested in the election - 48 hours since the polls closed.
The latest tally, posted on the election commission's website, showed independent candidates had won 100 seats, with Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) taking 72 seats.
At least 90 of the victorious independent candidates were backed by Khan and his party, a Reuters analysis showed - putting them well ahead of Sharif's party.
Khan's supporters were running as independents because they had been barred from the polls by the election commission for not complying with electoral laws.
Despite the ban and Khan's imprisonment for convictions on charges ranging from leaking state secrets to corruption to an unlawful marriage, millions of the former cricketer's supporters came out to vote for him.
However, under Pakistan's electoral laws, independent candidates are not eligible to be allocated reserved seats, 70 of which are meant to be distributed according to party strength. Sharif's party could get up to 20 of these seats.
Khan's close aide and media adviser, Zulfi Bukhari, told Reuters the party would announce within the next day the party banner they will ask independents to join. In Pakistan, independent candidates cannot form a government on their own and need to join a party.
"And we have no fear of independents going anywhere, because these are the people who have struggled for the last 18 months and endured all kinds of torture and oppression," Bukhari told Reuters in a WhatsApp voice message.
Whoever seeks to form the next government would need support from other parties with no one close to the seat threshold for a simple majority in parliament.
Beside Khan and Sharif, the Pakistan Peoples Party of Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the son of assassinated premier Benazir Bhutto, remains a major player with at least 53 seats.
The rest were won by small parties and other independents. This sets up a period of intense political negotiations over the next few days before a parliamentary vote to elect a new prime minister and government can take place.
Pakistan's army chief congratulated the country on Saturday for the "successful conduct" of the election, saying the nation needed "stable hands" to move on from the politics of "anarchy and polarisation".
The military remains the country's most powerful institution and has for decades had a huge role in making and breaking governments. Khan accuses the military of a crackdown on him and his party. The military denies this.
From jail, Khan released an audio-visual message created with artificial intelligence rather than having a statement read out by his lawyers, as is usually the case, in which he rejected Sharif's claim to victory.
In the message posted on social media platform X, he called on his supporters to celebrate what he called a win that had been achieved despite a crackdown on his party and alleged poll rigging to limit the success of PTI-backed candidates.
The United States, Britain and the European Union on Friday each expressed concerns about the electoral process, urging a probe into reported irregularities.
British Foreign Secretary David Cameron cited "serious concerns" that raised questions "about the fairness and lack of inclusivity of the elections".
Pakistan's foreign office responded to the comments on Saturday, saying they ignored the "undeniable fact" that the election had been successfully conducted.
"It is our hope that the process will be concluded effectively and it will reflect the will of the people," said former Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, who is leading the Commonwealth team to observe the voting.
Jonathan called on those with grievances over the election to raise them in line with the laws of Pakistan.